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Friday, April 18, 2008

Digital Content, IP and the Case of Georgia

One of the more interesting headlines in the past week is the story about alleged intellectual property rights violations at Georgia State University. More details on that case can be found in an article that appeared Wednesday in Insider Higher Education. Many of the responses to the article are as interesting (or more so) than the article itself. Another article on this case appears in this week's Campus Marketplace.

Of interest here is the application of copyright and intellectual property protection for digital course materials. It reminds me of the P2P or "Napster-like" piracy cases of music in the last decade. The authors, creators, and producers of content deserve to be properly recompensed for their work. At the same time, there is immense pressure to reduce the cost of content for students.

How many institutions across the country have the same or similar breaches over IP protection on their campus? What exactly is fair use in a digital context? More importantly, how do we work together to maximize the benefits and minimize the driving factors leading to this conflict of values: protecting IP versus making education affordable? As course materials become increasingly digital it also becomes increasingly important for us to resolve these and other questions. I can foresee this conversation getting even more muddy with open source textbooks, since most textbooks and course material content relies on getting permission clearance for the inclusion of images, text, or content. As we saw in the YouTube situation -- when is a "mashup" of content really something new, versus a violation of IP? Add to that the potential to reduce cost to students and the problem gets more complex yet.

This is an area that would benefit further discussion that includes a wider range of stakeholders. Perhaps by working together the stores, libraries, faculty, students, and university administrations could find a more effective solution that upholds both values. To quote Marc Fleischaker, NACS general counsel:

This case raises very complex, but very important issues. As we move more rapidly toward digital delivery, it is important for publishers, schools, stores, and students that the copyright issues be clarified. Digital delivery doesn't mean free delivery, and the concept of 'fair use' is not necessarily different merely because content is delivered digitally instead of physically. Most stores now obtain appropriate permission before putting materials in a coursepack. One would hope that the industry could reach a consensus through discussion about how to treat digital materials, but if it can't happen through discussions, it is not surprising that litigation results. We will follow this issue closely at NACS, and work to develop a model that can be successful for students, universities, stores, libraries, and publishers.

That is all I have to say on this topic for now, but I expect to see and hear more about IP issues and digital course materials over the coming 12-24 months. Can anyone reading this list provide some good links for readers that provide more information on this topic?

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