Cambridge University Press v. Becker (Georgia State University ereserves case)
The Cambridge University Press v. Becker case (better known as the "Georgia State University" or "ereserves" case; also known as Cambridge University Press v. Becker or v. Patton) centered on a copyright infringement case filed by three publishers (Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press, and Sage Publications) which sued Georgia State University for scanning materials and making them available to students through the library's secured "ereserves" system.
Originally filed in 2008, with the publishers claiming more than 100 items to infringe, the District Court held in 2012 that only 5 were in fact infringing. Of the original allegations, the publishers dropped almost 50 claims, presumably deciding their case was weak in those instances. The remaining works were either not shown to be actually owned by the publishers, not shown to have ever been infringed or viewed by students ("de minimis" claims), or fair use. The fair use analysis, applied to each individual work claimed, hinged in large part on the highly privileged purpose of the use (teaching in a nonprofit university). Also significant were the nature of the works (scholarly and reference materials in the social sciences), the generally small portions taken (only so much as was needed in all but 5 instances), and the unavailability of licensing for those sorts of small electronic portions.
The Court explicitly made several holdings that were import to libraries, in addition to the detailed fair use assessments of scores of claimed infringements. First, the Court explicitly held that the so-called "Classroom Guidelines" were voluntary and did not have the force of law; this should put to rest claims that these standards, privately negotiated in the 1970s, restrict library's full use of the privileges granted under the Copyright Act. Second, the Court explicitly distinguished between the nonprofit educational services provided by university libraries, and the for-profit commercial services at issue in the so-called "coursepack cases". While commercial services have been found liable for copyright infringement for making money by selling copyrighted content to students, libraries are explicitly privileged by the provisions of 17 USC 107 ("fair use") to support criticism, research, teaching, and learning. And in a third significant holding, the Court found that as a state university, Georgia State University was not liable for copyright damages.
Moreover, the Court awarded attorney's fees to Georgia State University, signifying that not only did the library win on the vast majority of individual claimed infringements, they were the "prevailing party" in the case as a whole. Thus the Court put its imprimatur on library ereserves.
The publishers, financed by the Copyright Clearance Center, appealed. Oral arguments were heard in late 2013, and the 11th Circuit issued its opinion on October 17, 2014. The appeals court reversed the lower court on its fair use analysis and its award of attorney's fees to GSU. However, it affirmed the lower court's analyses on the all-important first and fourth factors, it's work-by-work analytical approach, and its treatment of the Classroom Guidelines and coursepack cases. The Copyright Librarian has posted some initial thoughts on the 11th Circuit's fair use analysis (Oct. 17, 2014), and the implications of this decision.
- District Court proceedings (decision May 11, 2012)
- Opinion: decision May 11, 2012
- Eleventh Circuit appeal proceedings (decision Oct. 17, 2014)
- Sept. 10, 2012 - Publishers Announce They Will Appeal (Chronicle of Higher Education)
- November, 2013 - Oral argument (one-hour; MP3 recording of oral argument available by request of Jack Lerner, USC).
- Oct. 17, 2014 - Opinion issued (PDF)
- Oct. 17, 2014 - Initial thoughts on the 11th Circuit opinion - the fair use analysis, and the implications of this decision.
- General links from Educause, to a wide variety of media coverage and discussions
Last Edited: 24 October 2014