A group of publishers filed suit in federal court to stop widespread copyright infringement at Georgia State University (GSU). The complaint, filed by Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press and SAGE Publications and supported by the Association of American Publishers (AAP), charges that GSU officials are violating the law by systematically enabling professors to provide students with digital copies of copyrighted course readings published by the plaintiffs and numerous other publishers without those publishers' authorization. The lawsuit seeks injunctive relief to bring an end to such practices, but does not seek monetary damages.
The lawsuit asserts "pervasive, flagrant, and ongoing" unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials, despite attempts to reach an amicable and mutually acceptable solution without the need for litigation. GSU distributes the unauthorized materials through its electronic course reserves service, its Blackboard/WebCT Vista electronic course management system, and its departmental web pages and hyperlinked online syllabi available on websites and computer servers controlled by GSU. U.S. copyright law applies to digital course offerings as it does to paper offerings, and does not distinguish between different methods of distribution.
While many U.S. colleges and universities work with university presses and other publishers to ensure their uses of published materials are in accordance with U.S. copyright law, the lawsuit states that GSU has flatly rebuffed efforts to reach similar agreements.
"University presses are integral to the academic environment, providing scholarly publications that fit the needs of students and professors and serving as a launch pad from which academic ideas influence debate in the public sphere," said Niko Pfund, Vice-President of Oxford University Press. "Without copyright protections, it would be impossible for us to meet these needs and provide this service."
"Publishers must protect their interests and those of their authors when they believe that this spirit of cooperation--and the law itself--is being willfully and blatantly violated," said Pfund. "We take this action in sorrow, not in anger, as we consider universities, librarians, scholars, and presses to exist in the same, mutually supportive ecosystem, and believe librarians especially to be among our most important publishing partners."
"Of all places, we would expect universities to respect laws protecting intellectual property and to instill their students with such respect," said Frank Smith of Cambridge University Press. "One of the key values underpinning teaching and research in colleges and universities is the responsibility to credit academic work to its creator; and any attempt to take credit for work that is not your own is widely viewed as unacceptable. We think the majority of faculty would recognize that the same principles apply in respecting copyright law and the work of fellow authors and that these principles apply in the digital world, just as in the print world."
"Respect for copyright law is integral to the higher education process," said Patricia Schroeder, AAP President and CEO. "It provides the basis for publishing operations of university presses and scholarly societies, and makes possible the contributions of innumerable other authors and publishers to the educational process. Georgia State University's disregard for basic copyright protections undermines this very premise."
"AAP members and the publishing industry recognize the advantages of making course content available electronically for students, and offer licensing and permissions processes designed to allow such uses on a cost-effective basis," continued Schroeder. "We are simply asking Georgia State University to take the necessary measures to respect the law."
A copy of the complaint may be found on AAP's website, http://www.publishers.org/.