Thursday, July 21, 2011

Academic Photocopying

Matthew Yglesias speaks to what people would do if they couldn't mooch off JStor from institutions which have it:
"If you copy something that you’re not allowed to copy without my permission, that’s a very different issue. Perhaps you deprive me of income I would have had if you hadn’t done that, or perhaps you don’t deprive me of anything. As I’ve said before, I sometimes beg online for someone to send me a copy of an academic article that I can’t get free access to. It’s never the case that my fallback option in this situation is to purchase an extremely expensive academic journal subscription. Nobody is harmed when this sort of copying occurs, and even in the cases where there is a harm the nature of the harm is quite different from the harm incurred in actual cases of theft."

One issue in higher education right now is the copyright status of electronic reserves, mostly pdf copies of articles or book chapters students are not required to purchase or to which they do not otherwise have electronic access, which faculty make available on a password-protected course website. There are legal limits on how much of this I am allowed to do, and in a current court case involving Georgia State, publishers are seeking to enforce a very strict standard, believing they are losing out on lots of licensing fees.

If, however, electronic reserves go the way of Napster, cash-strapped universities aren't going to start paying such fees. When I was an undergraduate, books and articles were placed on hard copy reserve, and individual students usually made their own copies. The right of individuals to copy something for personal educational use remains unchallenged. In my modern Middle East class last fall, I wanted to use multiple primary sources in a certain book, which was beyond the reasonable limits of what I could place on e-reserve, However, I also didn't think it was worth students' buying, so I had the library put it on reserve, and students just worked out their own copying and sharing system. Rigorous enforcement of electronic copyrights would simply result in students making more photocopies.



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