Lloyd Sealy Library
John Jay College of Criminal Justice
Lloyd Sealy Library

Lloyd Sealy Library

John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Copyright and reserves in the courts

From the Fall 2014 newsletter

The legal battles over reserves continue to play out in the Georgia courts. Georgia State University was sued by publishers in 2008 for “pervasive, flagrant and ongoing unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials” through the library’s e-reserve system. The university revised its policies, but the case went ahead. On May 11, 2012, Judge Evans in the District Court of Northern Georgia made a ruling sympathetic to the University, finding only a small number of violations and setting out specific guidelines to be used in evaluating fair use of copyrighted material. Her ruling was appealed by the Oxford University Press to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled on October 17, 2014, reversing the decision in the favor of the publisher and remanding the case back to the District Court.

Many commentators have been assessing what the latest ruling means for library reserves services. The decision has weakened considerably the relevance of the 1976 “Classroom guidelines,” to the point where many observers say they are useless. However the decision reiterated the importance of the “four factors” we consider in deciding whether or not our copying of materials is fair. These four factors are written into Federal copyright law, Section 107 of title 17, U. S. Code:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work

At the Lloyd Sealy Library, we continue to follow the Georgia State University case, as do libraries across the country. As the Minnesota-based copyright librarian Nancy Sims points out in her blog, “It may also be worth remembering that none of this legal interpretation is binding law outside of the 11th Circuit (Alabama, Florida, Georgia). In other states, we can look to these opinions for guidance, but we can also explore different paths.”


Ellen Sexton

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