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Testimony ended this week in a civil suit brought by eight publishing companies against Kinko's Graphics Corporation for infringement of copyright laws.
The suit, filed last April in the Manhattan federal district court, is the first such case involving a copying company ever to come to trial. The plaintiffs charge that two New York City Kinko's shops failed several times to obtain permission from publishers before printing college sourcebooks which contained copyrighted material.
Judith W. Platt, a spokesperson for the Association of American Publishers (AAP), which is aiding the publishers in the suit, said this week that the plaintiffs are seeking financial compensation as well as an end to what they view as illegal reproduction of source materials.
But Platt said that while Kinko's is the only copying company that is currently being sued, the recent charges also represent a broader attempt to crack down on the problem of illegal copying.
"College publishers have been aware of illegal anthologies for a long time," Platt said.
She cited a 1983 case in which AAP sued New York University and several of its faculty members for similar violations. That case was settled out of court, with publishers receiving monetary damages and the university's agreeing to enforce a stricter copyright policy in the production of its sourcebooks.
But Kurt Koenig, Kinko's copyright counsel, said in an interview this week that the company did not need permission to copy the materials because of several provisions in the Fair Use Clause of the Federal Copyright Law of 1976. That clause specifies certain conditions when royalties need not be paid for copyrighted material.
The criteria include the number of reproductions, the purpose for which they are made and the copying's effect on a text's copyright value.
Koenig said that the outcome of the case would set an important precedent in defining the limits of fair use for reproductions.
A victory for the plaintiffs "could potentially stop all photocopying without a royalty payment," Koenig said. "These royalties will add to the cost of copying, and the higher prices will be passed on to students."
And Adrianna K. Foss, a spokesperson for Kinko's, said that if the plaintiffs convince the court of the validity of their interpretation of the copyright law, "there is a danger that students will not have access to up-to-date materials."
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