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A federal judge sided with Georgia State University on a range of copyright infringement claims filed by three publishing houses in a ruling that administrators said could set an important precedent for how educational data is used by schools.
The order by Senior U.S. District Judge Orinda Evans on Friday rejected 69 copyright claims against the university filed by Oxford University Press, SAGE Publications and Cambridge University Press. The publishers claimed the school allowed "massive" copyright violations by allowing professors to download and reproduce excerpts from course materials.
The ruling by Evans found that "fair use doctrine" protected a professor's decision to allow students to access an excerpt through the university's online system. The doctrine allows the publication of material without the consent of the copyright's owner as long as the amount of the material used is limited.
She wrote that making limited excerpts freely available to students would "further the spread of knowledge."
Legal experts closely watched the outcome of the lawsuit, which some said was the first of its kind in the nation.
"The judge's ruling is significant not only for Georgia State University, but for all educational fair use in general," said Georgia State University President Mark Becker. "While the broader implications of this case will be analyzed for weeks and months to come, Georgia State is very pleased to have been a trailblazer in this increasingly complex digital copyright environment."
Kerry Heyward, who represented the school, said the verdict could help colleges develop policies for electronic access.
"This case highlights the importance of fair use in providing academic faculty a cost effective, legal way to spread important knowledge to their students," said Heyward. "We appreciate Judge Evans' careful consideration of this complicated issue, and greatly value her understanding and appreciation of higher education."
An attorney for the publishers didn't immediately return a call seeking comment.
The university didn't win on every challenge. Evans ruled against the university in five claims that took place when the publication lost money because students had free access to entire textbook chapters.