American Universities Sued for Copyright Infringement

In September 2011, a group of authors, as well as the Authors Guild and Australian Society for Authors, brought one of the largest copyright infringement suits in history against five major American Universities.  These universities included University of Michigan, University of California, University of Wisconsin, Indiana University, and Cornell University.  The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleged that the universities made digitized copies of over seven million copyrighted works without the consent of the authors.  The universities pulled most of the materials from Google and the goal of making digitized copies was to allow students to access them online.

The Universities claim that under the fair use doctrine, libraries are allowed to use portions of copyrighted materials without the consent of the authors and without paying a licensing fee.  The Authors Guild is contesting the Universities’ assertions by stating that they do not qualify for a specific section of the Copyright Act (Section 108), and thus cannot use it as a defense.  Section 108 limits the scope of usage to just the reproduction of published books, not the distribution.  The Authors Guild further states that the Universities have already admitted that the purpose of the digitalization of the books is to distribute them to students.

It is interesting to note where the Authors Guild and other plaintiffs chose to hold the hearing.  They could have chosen from any district where any of the universities was a member of, but they chose New York because this court has had a long history of dealing with copyright cases and siding with copyright holders.

The Judge presiding over this case hopes to have the Summary Judgement motions filed by July 20.  This is probably unlikely, but the case should progress as the summer moves on.  This is a particularly interesting and notable case because it is closely related to copyright infringement suits filed against Google for its digitalization of protected works.

 

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