Former Copyright Registers: We Must Limit Fair Use At Public Universities, For The Poor Publishers Who Are Paying Us To Say This

Techdirt. Stories filed under "fair use" 2013-03-30


We've written a few times now about an important case involving fair use within university libraries and their "e-reserves." It involves some academic publishers (Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press and Sage Publications) suing the Georgia State University for daring to allow professors to designate content such that it can be checked out electronically, just like they would with physical content. The publishers demand to be paid extra for such things, because the key to things going digital, to them, is the ability to get paid multiple times for what used to be free. The court eventually came out with a detailed and complex ruling that found most of the e-reserves to be fair use. We had some concerns about some seemingly arbitrary "tests" that the judge came up with, but on the whole were encouraged by the strong fair use support. We were dismayed, recently, to learn that the Justice Department, at the urging of the Copyright Office, was considering weighing in on the appeal, potentially siding with the publishers and against the University and its students. This is really quite incredible when you think about it. It would involve the President's administration -- which has claimed education is a priority -- siding with mostly foreign publishers against a public university seeking to make access to information and learning more affordable (which, copyright law tells us, is a key thing copyright and fair use are supposed to enable). But, copyright maximalism runs deep within the Copyright Office, which isn't all that surprising given the revolving door between it and various maximalist lobbying operations. So, it really shouldn't come as a huge surprise that two former Copyright Office bosses have teamed up to file their own amicus brief that argues in favor of the publishers and against fair use. Between Ralph Oman and Marybeth Peters, they ran the Copyright Office from 1985 all the way up until 2010. Both are extreme copyright maximalists. We last wrote about Oman a few months ago when he made the stunning filing in the Aereo case claiming that all new technology that can be used for content should be presumed illegal until Congress has given an explicit okay. There are tons of crazy Marybeth Peters stories to choose from, but we'll just point you to the time that, in supporting a ridiculous attempted expansion of copyright law (the INDUCE Act, which never passed) she suggested that anyone who thought copyright laws needed to be reformed in the other direction was actually assisting organized crime operations. So, these are not what one might consider folks used to presenting "balanced" arguments, or even arguments that care about the public. These two are copyright maximalists to the extreme. Also, it's worth noting that while a bunch of publishers who are not a party to the suit (Reed Elsevier, McGraw-Hill, Pearson Education, John Wiley & Sons, and Cengage) are disclosed as funding Peters and Oman (and two others) to prepare this brief, they seem to have left out a mighty big conflict of interest. The Copyright Clearance Center, which has funded 50% of the costs for the three academic publisher plaintiffs, has Marybeth Peters on its board of directors. You would think that this is a very direct conflict of interest that needs to be disclosed. Being on the board of the group that not only is funding the lawsuit, but which would stand to benefit massively in financial terms should the lower court ruling be overturned (the CCC would be the one to collect the fees, most likely) seems like an obvious conflict of interest... and is not named at all. Oman, for his part, used to be on the board there as well. The brief is, well, pretty much what you'd expect. They're not fans of fair use and they're "concerned" about how actually allowing fair use would impact those who paid them for this brief and who are funding the lawsuit:
Amici are concerned that the flawed reasoning and incorrect holding of the district court will have implications far beyond the specific uses at issue h


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Mike Masnick

Date tagged:

03/30/2013, 13:14

Date published:

02/12/2013, 12:44