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University of Texas University of Texas Libraries

Copyright Crash Course

Understanding the Issues

Understanding the Issues

Universities get sued for infringements committed by their employees

By providing internet access and publishing capability, we can be held liable for infringements of faculty and staff, and perhaps even of students (unrelated third parties). It is of the utmost importance to have and follow a policy for addressing allegations of infringement. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act protects us and other internet service providers only if we act strictly in accordance with its requirements.

Cost of carelessness

The rules of the road in the electronic environment are being worked out through the legislative process and in our courts. The courtroom is not where most of us would like to have our influence. Nevertheless, copyright owners are having considerable success lately pursuing strategies to narrow the scope of fair use, to hold internet service providers liable for the infringements of their customers, let alone their employees, and to make license agreements that practically no one reads legally enforceable. They have also persuaded our Legislature to create new rights for users to violate.

Still, potential litigation is really just a risk of some cost of both time and money. More real to most of us are the costs for subscriptions to scientific, medical and technical journals that have been spiraling out of control for two decades. Most universities have been forced to cut back on book purchases to pay for the inflationary costs of journals. Some cancel subscriptions and rely upon interlibrary loan, a practice that many publishers complain is illegal in itself. Even then, costs of interlibrary loan are escalating as well.

Most importantly, the university must recognize that to a large extent, it has helped to create the circumstances that fostered the explosion of these costs by uncritically buying into the bargain we've made with commercial publishers who do not necessarily share our values regarding scholarly communication.

Benefits of electronic scholarly communication

The electronic medium offers a unique opportunity for universities to take a more active role in the management of our copyright properties, to more efficiently and effectively facilitate our research and educational mission.

A comprehensive intellectual property policy supports university research and educational missions

Universities must be involved in legislative debate. Since we are both owners and users of copyright works, we have important interests at stake. Our needs are routinely ignored in legislation that is introduced nearly every session of Congress. The direction that amendments to the Copyright Act have taken over the last 10 years make clear that we should be considering right now how to best obtain broad clearances from the rights holders whose works we depend so heavily upon on a daily basis; how to better protect our interests in scholarly works created at our institutions; and how to minimize the risk of university liability for employee and third party infringements in cyberspace.

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