In a recent discussion about Sci-Hub, I took some heat for bringing up the history of copyright and the shifting attitudes over time about what it is good for. So I should probably know better than to appeal to history again as I begin some thoughts about the unique place of translations in copyright law. Nevertheless, I think it is important to note that translations were not explicitly protected by U.S. law until 1870, and that 17 years earlier, an author of no less stature than Harriett Beecher Stowe lost a lawsuit in which she tried to prevent the publication of an unauthorized translation into German of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. As this article about the case tells us, the judge asserted that once it was published, Stowe’s expression was as available to translators — as much “public property” — as were the works of Homer or Cervantes.
This week I had the opportunity to speak at the University System of Georgia’s Teaching and Learning Conference. We had a great discussion about the role of libraries supporting open educational resources (OERs) as part of a daylong track sponsored by Affordable Learning Georgia, a program that connects faculty, librarians, the press, and external partners to support course redesign and open education. ALG is a relatively new project but has already shown outstanding results, saving students more than $16 million in its first two years. In light of these results, it’s no surprise that the university system gave ALG such a prominent role in the event. In fact, an OER track has become increasingly common in many academic conferences, including special emphasis at this month’s CNI Executive Roundtable, a daylong event at ALA Midwinter, and sessions at most of the major library-focused conferences in 2015 and 16.
There have been developments, of the sort that don’t make headlines, in two major copyright cases that folks in higher education need to know about.
First, today the Supreme Court announced that it would not review the opinion issued by the Second Circuit in the Authors Guild v. Google, the case about the Google Books project that offered a strong reaffirmation of fair use. So the Authors Guild finally and definitively loses another in its string of anti-fair use cases. This was what I and many others expected, but it is nice to be able to say that this case is done. And the broad, flexible approach to fair use that is outlined in the Second Circuit’s decision stands, which is great news.
As announced Friday, the MIT Libraries have included innovative language in our agreement with Springer : a provision that MIT-authored articles will automatically be deposited into our campus repository.
This partnership reflects the strategy mentioned in my previous post – our newly created Department of Scholarly Communications and Collections Strategy is assessing potential purchases using a new lens: whether purchases transform the scholarly communication system towards openness, or make a positive impact on the scholarly communication environment in some way—to take one example, through licensing.
If the library is the heart of a university, then exercising fair use is the lifeblood. Teachers, researchers, students, librarians and publishers exercise fair use in countless ways every day. It is fair use that facilitates re-using and re-mixing, if you will, the knowledge preserved and made available by libraries into new discoveries and interpretations. This process of research and scholarship has been referred to as ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ because we all rely on that which has gone before to provide insight, context and meaning for today.
Interesting things are happening over at the Unizin project. In early February the Unizin board shared some of its thinking about course content in a post, An Evolutionary Unizin Approach for Commercial and OER Content. Outside of project teams & meetings directly related to Unizin activity (disclosure and disclaimer: my institution is a Unizin member, so although I’m partly drawing on some of our experiences, this post only reflects my personal views) I’ve not heard a lot of chatter about the strategy or Unizin in general, so I don’t know how many eyeballs it’s attracted. It may be that, on balance, not a huge number of us know what Unizin is, but assuming the strategy was posted to stimulate response and conversation, here are a few thoughts.
[Note that this posting is also found on the Scholarly Communications @ Duke site. I decided to post it on both the venue I am leaving and this new, group undertaking, because the issue is so important. But I apologize for the repetition that many readers of both sites will experience]
My first thought when I read the new ruling in the Georgia State copyright lawsuit brought by publishers over e-reserves was of one of those informal rules that all law students learn — don’t tick off your judge. From the first days of the original trial, the arrogant antics of the attorneys representing the publisher plaintiffs — Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, and Sage Publishing — clearly put them in a bad light in the Judge Evans’ eyes. Those chickens came home to roost in this latest opinion, especially where the plaintiffs are chided for having filed a declaration about what licenses were available for excerpts back in 2009, even after the Judge told them not to, since that information had not been introduced as evidence in the original trial. All of that evidence was stricken, and the Judge based her new opinion on the evidence that was before her in that first trial. I can imagine that the publishers might use that ruling as a basis for yet another appeal, but if they do so, they had better be able to prove that the evidence is genuine and reliable, and to explain why, if it is, they did not produce it at trial back in 2011.