Nine New York University professors, the university and a local copy center are being taken to court in a case that has sent shock waves across the nation's academic community.
The professors co-defendants in a case filed by the Association of American Publishers (AAP) in New York District Court last December 9 are charged with violating the Copyright Act of 1976 by copying large sections of books for their courses without first obtaining the permission of the authors.
The professors copied class material as long as 300 pages "year after year" said Carol A Risher, director of the AAP copyright division in an article that appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education recently.
Other universities have since taken action to prevent similar trouble. Yale officials sent out a special memorandum to all professors last week concerning the case and college newspapers across the country report worried faculty and confused administrators at other universities.
Harvard administrators however, say they are not concerned.
I don't think that problem [of copyright violation] memorandum to all faculty after the 1976 law was passed, outlining the changes in copying regulations and since then has received only occasional requests for clarification of the regulations.
"The principle that most people use is that if you copy more than five pages, you call the publisher to ask for permission," said William Alfred, Lowell Professor of Humanities. Alfred added that he uses copies of sections from books in his classes periodically and hasn't had trouble with the new regulations.
But professors elsewhere are not so confident "I assume the law pertains to the copying of 200 pages rather than a page here or there. If it is the latter, the effect on teaching at all American universities will be appalling." William Harris, a professor of history at Columbia University said in the Columbia Spectator.
A rider to the Copyright Act of 1976, which took effect in 1978, stipulates that professors may copy only 10 percent of a total work for class use, and that only if there is to be no more than one copy for each student in the class. The 1976 act was the first revision of the nation's copyright legislation since 1909. The current case represents the first time the Copyright Act has been directed specifically at University professors.