PSU cracks down on copyright law

The university is cracking down on faculty members who have been circumventing copyright law by using copying stores to create packets of excerpts that do not adhere to the law.


Rumors rapidly circulated last month among faculty that Smart Copy, a family-run copying center often used by professors to create course packets, was being sued for copyright infringement.


No lawsuit had been filed with Multnomah County against Smart Copy as of Oct. 12, and Smart Copy employees declined to comment.


In a Sept. 28 e-mail, University Studies director Judy Patton wrote that some professors are “having difficulty with the copyright law and packets” and warns professors to follow Portland State’s copyright policy.


“I can’t say every faculty member didn’t go to Smart Copy,” Patton said in an interview. “We are helping faculty understand what the law is.”


Packets provide the widest array of sources for students, and can often be obtained for a fraction of the cost of books. Course packets are not illegal as long as copy outlets follow copyright law. Both Patton and Beasley cited the increasing financial burden students must carry as a reason that illegal packets are often used.


“Faculty members are very aware of rising tuitions,” Patton said.


Patton was wary of the precedent that could be set by ignoring copyright laws, though she called the subject of copyright infringement a “non-issue.”


PSU reference librarian and Information Resources Management Coordinator Sarah Beasley notes the library’s efforts to work within the constraints of copyright law and provide alternates to packets, such as the Millar Library electronic reserve.


“Course packets are very efficient for faculty,” she said. “It takes more time to follow the rules of copyright – lots more time.” 


Following copyright law is not only time-consuming, it’s more expensive, especially because the copyright holder sets the price. When the copy center gets a packet request, they obtain the copyright license and that fee gets factored into the price of the packet and the cost gets transferred to the student.


“In the short run and in the long run, it makes it more expensive,” Beasley said. “That’s all there is to it.”


Portland State’s copyright policy clearly outlines what is acceptable “fair use” for copyrighted works, including “purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research.” Limits are also put on length, such as a 2,500-word or 10 percent limit on prose samples, whichever is less.


Beasley says that there are “workarounds” that can prevent professors from having to use packets, methods like the electronic reserve and posting material on WebCT. But these methods require more lead-time and more legwork for professors.


“They have to check to see if the library has it,” Beasley said, adding that numerous articles are available in online databases and journals that PSU subscribes to and are free to students to access using their ODIN account.


The issue of copyright law is not a joke, Beasley said. Those who own intellectual property, such as publishers and record companies, are aggressively securing their rights to it.

“The issue of the music industry going after 12-year-old kids, it’s all part of this,” Beasley said. “It’s not a little area. Some universities have a copyright lawyer. It’s a major subject.”