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What’s Fair about Fair Use? The Battle over E-Reserves at GSU (A)

 Elizabeth Moroney, under the supervision of Kyle Courtney and William Fisher  
Product number:
53 pages
Product Type:
Discussion-Based Case Study
Link to Teacher's Manual:

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The fair use case study puts students in the strategic and decision-making position of the legal counsel at Georgia State University, faced with responding to a copyright infringement suit from Cambridge University Press, SAGE Publishers, and Oxford University Press.  The publisher-plaintiffs alleged that 6,700 electronic course materials exceeded reasonable standards of educational fair use. However, the “reasonable standards” were up for debate: the copyright statute of fair use is intentionally flexible, but over time, clear-cut extralegal guidelines made their way into court decisions. For decades, publishers, authors, libraries, and universities had yet to reach consensus about best practices and workable standards of fair use. With the complaint lodged against GSU, the contention had become cannibalistic: the publishing arms of universities suing universities.

The A case surveys the legal and extralegal history of educational fair use; the relationship of universities and academic publishers; the history of litigation surrounding coursepacks, reserves, and electronic course materials; and the copyright policies at GSU. Participants adopt the position of GSU’s general counsel to weigh risk and decide whether GSU should settle or take the suit to trial. The case also gets students to consider the strengths and limitations of existing copyright law, the impact of technology on fair use, the interests of various stakeholders, and options for building consensus among such stakeholders. The B case reveals GSU’s response and the repercussions of that decision.

Subjects Covered

Educational fair use, copyright, fair use guidelines, electronic reserves, e-reserves, university libraries, university presses, academic publishing, scholarly communication, coursepacks, state sovereign immunity, fair use checklists, licensing, copy shops

Learning Objectives

  • Explore the changing law around education and fair use, and consider the impact of technology on copyright law.
  • Understand the difference between licensing and copyright, and consider the future of intellectual property agreements.
  • Consider what factors and precedents that counsel should (and should not) take into account when responding to a suit and deciding whether to go to trial.
  • Practice weighing risk in the face of nebulous doctrine and extralegal precedent.


Geographic: United States

Industry: Academic publishing

Event Start Date: 2008

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