Recent Copyright Cases: What You Need to Know

In the spring of 2008, Georgia State University officials were sued by three academic publishers claiming extensive copyright infringement in the posting of book excerpts to GSU’s e-reserves and learning management systems. Although the case went to trial in the summer of 2011, the judge took nearly a year to craft an almost 350-page opinion that painstakingly analyzed 75 alleged violations of fair use.

Cases like these arise all the time, challenging and further defining our understanding of copyright. However, most of the commonly known rulings have addressed face-to-face classes, while only the most recent have lent clarity—or complexity—to the issues surrounding copyright laws as they apply to the online classroom.

In the recent online seminar, How Recent Copyright Court Cases Affect Distance Education, Linda Enghagen, J.D., attorney and professor in the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, looked at a number of recent cases, extracting the facts that distance education faculty and administrators need to know.

For example:

  • Many people believe that “fair use” protects only a one-time use of material, and that using the material term after term will violate fair use. Instead, Enghagen explained why “repeated use of the same work is permitted by copyright law.”
  • Fair use disallows reproduction of excerpts of books if the excerpted material constitutes the “heart of the work.” Enghagen explained that if the intent of the reproduction is to allow someone to avoid purchasing the entire work, the reproduction is not allowed. An example might be a professor reproducing a summary chapter so that students are not required to purchase the entire book for class.
  • Some professors require students to upload papers to Turnitin, a service that checks student work against a database of published and other students’ work to check for plagiarism. Enghagen explained why this is an allowable requirement, even though Turnitin operates on a for-profit basis and maintains an archive that will include the students’ work.
  • A professor might bring a personally owned copy of a book or video to campus and show it in a face-to-face class, but do the same copyright restrictions apply when streaming the content online? Enghagen explained the differences in the fair use of personal copies of printed works versus videos in an online setting.
  • What is a transformative work? Enghagen discussed how using source material to create a new work is protected under copyright law and how this may play out in the online classroom.

These are just a few of the topics Enghagen explored in How Recent Copyright Court Cases Affect Distance Education, a well-organized, easy-to-understand online seminar for a complex topic—copyright and compliance.