Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Survey: Copyrights & Wrongs

Given the turn towards digitizing books, articles, and primary sources, unprecedented possibilities exist for creating tailor-made course-packs in either hard copy or on electronic reserve. For example, rather than simply assigning cases, one can now cut and paste excerpts from cases, partner them with excerpts from monographs, and/or articles, and provide students with engaging narratives, primary materials, and scholarly analysis -- all in easily readable 10-20 page installments. Question: what, precisely, are the rules for such digital compilations? Though we're all familiar with the notion of fair use, what precisely does that mean when we can now assemble everything digitally, post it to electronic reserve, and give students the benefit of reading primary source excerpts along with the best new work, free from the burden of purchasing weighty textbooks and/or wordy monographs? My librarian and I have been working on the assumption that if an assignment represents less than 5% of the total work, then it can be excerpted and posted digitally. Is this correct? What if the source is itself digital, say I purchase a copy of my own book (which Oxford has rights to) in electronic form. Can I then assign more than 5% to students? An ongoing case filed by Oxford and Cambridge against Georgia State has gotten me wondering about this. Styled Cambridge v. Patton, the case builds on the 1991 suit against Kinko's by Basic Books, and the 1992 case by Princeton University Press against Michigan Document Services. Yet, what's new about this case is its emphasis not simply on printed course packs, but digital collections. Cambridge has claimed that it will grant permission of up to 20% of a digital work, but would still like to charge students 17 cents a page. What if a faculty member, or institution, bought the digital work?