A ‘Fair Use’ Victory

Over the past couple of years there has been a major legal debate between organizations representing authors and publishers on the one hand, and a couple of major Internet entities–Google and the Hathi Trust.

The Hathi Trust, based at Michigan, is a coalition of a number of large universities. Its mission is ‘to contribute to the common good by collecting, organizing, preserving, communicating, and sharing the record of human knowledge.’ and its goals include:

  • To build a reliable and increasingly comprehensive digital archive of library materials converted from print that is co-owned and managed by a number of academic institutions.
  • To dramatically improve access to these materials in ways that, first and foremost, meet the needs of the co-owning institutions.
  • To help preserve these important human records by creating reliable and accessible electronic representations.

Essentially, Google helped Michigan and the other universities virtually scan all the books in their libraries in order to make them searchable and store their contents electronically. The idea was to make the books accessible to visually impaired students, and to allow researchers to search the entire corpus of texts. Linguists, for example, search written texts for early uses of particular words, or when studying grammatical constructions. Needless to say, such research would be impossible if it was necessary to read through every book in the U of M Library to find instances of the word there used as a subject of verbs other than be, appear, and seem (this happens to have been part of my dissertation research). And, of course, my doing that research would not have had any effect on the sales of the physics texts, novels and encyclopedias of fungi that are located in the library and were scanned. But the Authors’ Guild argued that this scanning reduced their sales and deprived them of income.

Last week U.S. District Judge Harold Baer Jr. (Southern District of New York) ruled that this scanning constituted ‘fair use’ of copyrighted material, and threw the Authors’ Guild suit out. He wrote ‘I cannot imagine a definition of fair use that would not encompass the transformative uses made by Defendants’ MDP [mass digitization project] and would require that I terminate this invaluable contribution to the progress of science and cultivation of the arts that at the same time effectuates the ideals espoused by the ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act].’ (The whole decision is available here.)

The notion of ‘transformative use’ is crucial in permitting use of copyrighted material without permission. It is what allows parodies, criticism, and now, crucially, linguistic and sociological research. It’s hard to imagine what the world would be like if a book review required the author’s permission to quote from the book being reviewed.

And, as was pointed out in Inside Higher Ed, this is the third major copyright case that universities and scholars have won. You may recall from a year or so ago that some major textbook publishers sued the University of Georgia for putting too much material into online coursepacks (inside Blackboard, incidentally). The judge in that case threw out most of the Association of American Publishers and the Copyright Clearance Center’s lawsuit also. And finally, a group representing documentary film makers failed in a lawsuit against UCLA.

Ultimately I think the major ‘take-away’ is that when scholars use copyrighted material in their research and teaching they are not ‘stealing’ it, and their use of it is unlikely to affect royalties going to authors. This makes these cases different from the music and movie industry’s war against ‘unauthorized’ downloading (whatever you think of the morality/legality of those cases).

International Conference on Online Learning–Streamed Live at Wayne

The annual Sloan-C conference on online learning will be streamed live to the Purdy/Kresge room 150 next week, and you are cordially invited to come and watch some or all of the talks.

The conference is taking place at Walt Disney World, but a number of the talks are being screened. Here is a link to the entire set of talks (with live links to the abstracts):


Not all of the sessions will be streamed at Wayne. Here is a graphic listing which lists all the talks we’ll be making available. Note that Wayne State’s own Sangeetha Gopalakrishnan is giving a talk Friday morning at 10:40 AM:

Sloan Conference Program

October is National Work and Family Month and…

Filipino American History Month  (not to mention LGBT History month )
and several other months too. And October 27 is National Pit Bull Awareness Day

But, seriously, folks,  it’s also National Cyber Security Awareness Month, and C&IT is taking the occasion to ‘raise awareness’ of phishing as an internet danger.

Most people now know what phishing is: an attempt by crooks to get you to visit a website or download a file to your computer that will infect your computer (or your smartphone, or tablet) and either steal data from it or use it to send additional spam, or even help launch Denial of Service attacks.

In 2012 most users have no idea what their computer (tablet, smartphone) is doing ‘behind their backs’. For example, tiny files are deposited on your computer all the time when you visit websites (these files are called ‘cookies’, and they make it easier for you to log in to Wayne Connect, or order stuff from Amazon, or buy airline tickets). Unless you’re geeky, like some of my colleagues, you have no idea what cookies your computer might be harboring, and that’s generally not a danger.

But some websites put much more malicious items on your computer. For example, programs that snatch control of your computer and use it to send out spam. Even porn-based spam. Or the program might send out tens of thousands of messages to a particular, targeted website (say Walmart, or the White House). If enough infected computers do this, the net effect is to break the targeted website so it can’t function. These attacks are called Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attacks, and programs downloaded without your knowledge are used to do this.

Another way that your computer can be seized (metaphorically) is through opening attachments that are designed to do the same thing–surreptitiously put programs on your computer. And we all get messages saying things like ‘please see the attachment for important information’ or something like that.

Now, you may think you’d never fall for these tricks, but in early September several of your Wayne State colleagues did, and their computers were ‘pwned’ (cute internet slang for ‘taken over by cybercrooks’) and sent out tons of spam. As a result all of Wayne State email was marked as spam by Microsoft (who run Hotmail and its successors), and nobody at Wayne could contact anyone with a Hotmail or .msn address. Many of us were handicapped by this until we could persuade Microsoft that we were good guys after all.

So, C&IT is going to be running a campaign to teach folks how to recognize phishing messages and what to do when you receive one. And this blog entry is one of the opening salvos in that campaign. Anticipate hearing lots more about this, including an exciting contest with clever prizes.
And happy National Bullying Prevention Month.