In 2008, the first lawsuit over electronic course content began when Georgia State University was sued by a group of publishers over their misuse of e-reserves.
The publishers claimed that the university abused their e-reserve right by making more than 6,700 total works available for more than 600 courses. These materials were available for students to download, view and print without permission from the copyright holders. The plaintiffs were not suing for monetary damages, only injunctive relief.
Does this sound familiar? Pacific University also has an e-reserve system where students can view material online. The difference is that Pacific complies with copyright laws; yet rely on faculty and students to keep distribution of e-reserves legal.
“There are really two separate issues here,” said Pacific’s Scholarly Communication and Research Service Librarian Isaac Gilman, “what Pacific does and what the student does.”
Pacific University is responsible for making sure that the materials posted on e-reserves comply with copyright laws. This means that limited portions of copyrighted materials in an e-reserve account are accessible only to a limited number of students, for a limited period of time. After one semester, materials are removed from the reserve so students cannot access them once the class is over, yet what really matters is what the student does with the copyrighted material during the semester.
A disclaimer appears before students can access any e-reserves material. Have you ever read it?
The disclaimer states that the materials in the e-reserves are being provided to the students for their personal academic use. If a student takes something from e-reserves and emails it to students who aren’t in that class, posts it on a website where anyone can download it, or makes any other use of it that wouldn’t be considered “personal use,” then that student is in danger of violating copyright law.
“The university library legally provides the work to the student, but the university library will not be held responsible for what the student does with that copyrighted work. The student will be held responsible for his or her own actions,” said Gilman.
It may seem like all the weight is on the student to comply with copyright laws, yet faculty have their own guidelines to follow when posting e-reserves. All of the faculty, both graduate and undergraduate, can use the e-reserve system for their classes.
Circulation Department Supervisor Elaine Bortles said, “Reserves are either posted with the understanding that, as defined by copyright law and congressional guidelines, the posting is Fair Use (USC 17, Section 107) or if not Fair Use, copyright permission must be obtained from the copyright holder prior to posting.”
Another way copyright can be violated is if faculty members require students to print
something from the e-reserve and bring it to class. This is a copyright violation.
The Georgia State University case will end up affecting all of the university’s e-reserve systems, but what can Pacific do as an immediate change to protect faculty and students from copyright infringement?
One idea is to make faculty and students aware of when they are violating the copyright law. This could be demonstrated on the first day of class or signs posted around campus. Enforcing a printer lock on the documents so they cannot be printed may be another solution.
Bortles said, “As long as copyright compliance has been met, the university et al are not in danger of legal issues.”