October 22, 2017

Four Fair Use Takeaways from Cambridge University Press v. Patton

The most important copyright and educational fair use case in recent memory (mine, at least) was decided by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals last week. The case, Cambridge University Press v. Patton, challenged Georgia State University’s use of e-reserves in courses offered by the university. The copyrighted works at issue were scholarly books–i.e., a mix of monographs, edited volumes, and portions thereof–not textbooks. This case is important because of its broad applicability to similarly situated academic institutions throughout the country that routinely engage in the same practices for which GSU was sued. It’s also important because the court’s decision re-articulated and faithfully followed some foundational fair use principles from prior case law. Readers of the case who are proponents of a vigorous fair use doctrine shouldn’t be disheartened by the fact that the Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling in favor of GSU and remanded the case for reconsideration. Ultimately, this case is good news for educational fair use. Here are four reasons why:
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The End of a Brief Era: Recent Appellate Decisions in "Copyright Troll" Litigation

The onslaught of “copyright troll” litigation began only a few years ago, with lawsuits implicating hundreds or even thousands of “John Doe” defendants, who were identified by IP addresses with timestamps corresponding to alleged uses of BitTorrent services to share and download video content without authorization. Recently, federal appellate opinions confirmed growing consensus in district courts concerning this type of litigation.
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Criminal Copyright Sanctions as a U.S. Export

The copyright industries’ mantra that “digital is different” has driven an aggressive, global expansion in criminal sanctions for copyright infringement over the last two decades. Historically speaking, criminal penalties for copyright infringement under U.S. law date from the turn of the 20th century, which means that for over a hundred years (from 1790 to 1897), copyright infringement was exclusively a civil cause of action. From 1897 to 1976, there were criminal penalties, but only misdemeanor ones. In 1976, felony penalties were introduced, but only for repeat offenders. Following enactment of the 1976 Copyright Act, the pace of amendments expanding criminal liability greatly accelerated—a trend that more or less coincided with the PC revolution. In 1982, felony penalties were extended to some first-time offenses, but not for all types of copyrighted works. In 1992, felony penalties were extended to all types of works. In 1997, as the commercial Internet was beginning its exponential growth, the No Electronic Theft (NET) Act eliminated a longstanding requirement of commercial motive for criminal liability, making some infringements criminally actionable even if they are undertaken without any expectation of financial gain. Under the NET Act, a willful infringer acting without any commercial motive faces up to three years in prison for reproducing or distributing as few as 10 unauthorized copies of a copyrighted work.

As criminal penalties have ballooned domestically, they have also been expanding internationally.  The international expansion in criminal copyright liability has occurred in part (and increasingly) through the vehicle of plurilateral and bilateral trade agreements. The United States uses its negotiating leverage in the trade policy arena to pressure trading partners, particularly less powerful ones, to incorporate strict IP norms into their domestic law.   [Read more…]