The Georgia State E-reserves Case, Part 2: The Case

The Georgia State E-reserves Case, 2008-2012.

Those of us who work with or study policies regarding e-reserves and copyright issues have long wondered when and where this issue would first come to court.  It began at Georgia State University, in 2008.

On April 15, 2008, Cambridge University Press et al. v. Becker  was filed.

The plaintiffs (Cambridge UP, Oxford UP, and SAGE Publishers) avoided the state institutions sovereign immunity by seeking only an injunction, not monetary damages, and by naming individuals at the University that oversaw electronic reserves. They also wished to establish copyright guidelines for use by Georgia State after the case was settled.

Some months into the case, Georgia State announced new copyright guidelines. These included heavy use of the Columbia University Fair Use checklist.  Judge Evans agreed to use the new Georgia State system rather than the old one. (The old system was very lenient, and Georgia State paid very few clearance fees under it).

Many hearings took place. While at an ALA meeting, I had an informal conversation with some librarians from Georgia State. They said that many (often flabbergasted) faculty were being called to testify about their use of E-reserves and course readings. All the librarians had heard representatives from the publishers say that if the CCC and AAP weren’t footing the bill, they would not be involved. In June of 2011, hearings were closed. There was an announcement that a conclusion would be reached “in Fall or Winter.”  The decision came nearly a year later, on May 11, 2012.

“Judge Evans dug deep into the questions surrounding fair use and concluded—after thorough analysis—that copyright was meant to promote the writing of more books. She wrote, “There is no reason to believe that allowing unpaid, nonprofit academic use of small excerpts in controlled circumstances would diminish creation of academic works.”” (EDUCAUSE Policy Brief, A Case For Fair Use: The Georgia State Decision.” .  The plaintiffs had submitted 99 examples of how their works were being “infringed” by the E-reserves program at Georgia State. Ninety-five of the excerpts were determined to be examples of Fair Use.

The Georgia State decision, while most welcome, is relatively weak. It only applies to the district within Georgia represented by this federal court. Libraries outside this region do not have to abide by this decision.

It was fully expected that regardless of the outcome, this case would be appealed. On Jan 28, 2013, that appeal was filed. The US court of Appeals for the 11th  District will hear the case. (Publishers and Library Groups Spar in Appeal to Ruling on Electronic Course Reserves, Chronicle of Higher Education, 2-1-2013).

On outcomes: there are many articles on the Internet and in law journals describing current and future outcomes of this case. I am calling attention to one that occurred almost immediately after the suit was filed. Georgia State hosted an excellent web site on copyright issues. It was large, in-depth, and written for the average student or faculty member. It had an excellent collection of scenarios to help people understand copyright. This great resource was removed very soon after the case was filed. I mention it to emphasize that the cost of legal suits goes beyond money and court orders.

For more information:  Georgia State Copyright Case: Resources (EDUCAUSE)


About the Author:
Coordinator of Copyright Services, Instruction and Reference Librarian at Cowles Library, Drake University. Author of textbook for students and adults introducing copyright law. "Copyright For The Rest Of Us: A guide for people who aren't lawyers". Free download at

Leave a reply

Scroll to Top