Georgia State University Case Finally Set for Trial
The closely watched and much awaited copyright infringement case against Georgia State University officials is about to go to trial. As of this writing, short of a delay or settlement on the court house steps, the case brought by Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press, Inc. and Sage Publications, Inc. is set to begin on May 16, 2011 at the U.S. District Court in Atlanta, Georgia.
As the case made its way this far, its contours took shape. Except for the attorney’s fees amassed by all the parties to this dispute (which certainly is not a trivial sum), unlike most copyright infringement lawsuits, this case is not about the publishers asking the court to award them monetary damages. Instead, the primary focus of the publishers is their request for an injunction barring Georgia State University from continuing to follow its current policies and procedures for the use of copyright protected works. The publishers contend that the established policies and procedures allow faculty members to use their copyright protected works in a manner that exceeds the limits of the fair use rules. Their goal is to get the court to agree with their interpretation which, if successful, will result in educational institutions nationwide scrutinizing their policies and procedures and determining how to handle paying for increased permissions fees.
The narrow legal question at the center of the lawsuit as it goes to trial is whether Georgia State University officials violated laws prohibiting contributory copyright infringement. As described in the complaint filed by the publishers:
By facilitating, encouraging and inducing librarians and professors to scan, copy, display and distribute [the publishers’] copyrighted material … on a widespread and continuing basis via the Georgia State University website and other Georgia State computers and servers; and by facilitating, encouraging, and inducing students to view, download, copy and further distribute that copyrighted material, [the university officials’] conduct constitutes contributory infringement …
The complaint goes on to request an injunction ordering Georgia State University to stop its unlawful practices and award the publishers their attorney’s fees and costs. So, while this case is not about money in the traditional sense in which many lawsuits are about money, it is about money. Experts in the field typically estimate the cost of defending a copyright infringement suit to run at least $500,000. Should Georgia State University lose this case and be required to pay the publishers’ attorneys’ fees, it will in all likelihood cost them hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars (their own attorneys’ fees and costs + those of the publishing companies).
At its heart, this lawsuit is like those brought by the RIAA over illegal downloading. It is about the impact of new technology on old business models and who has to pay for what.