Copyright infringement cases, such as the recent University of California, Los Angeles case in which the university was sued for streaming videos to students, can be excused for educational purposes, Boston University officials said.
School of Law Dean Maureen O’Rourke said fair uses of copyrighted material include news reporting, teaching, scholarship and research. Whether the use is for profit is significant in determining fair use, she said.
“The first factor is the purpose and character of the use including whether its of a commercial nature or is for non-profit educational purposes,” O’Rourke said. “Generally, the more commercial, the more it weighs against fair use.”
In Association for Information Media and Equipment et al. v. Regents of the University of California, UCLA was sued for streaming previously purchased Shakespeare video content for educational purposes, according to a UCLA press release.
The Central District of California U.S. District Court deemed the alleged infringement fair use and dismissed the case on Nov. 20, the release stated.
UCLA spokesman Phil Hampton said he was pleased with the decision.
“It basically confirms what we’ve said all along that streaming licensed DVDs related to coursework over a secure network is an appropriate educational use,” he said. “This is a case that’s been looked at not only by our faculty, but also around the country.”
Victor Polk, co-chair of the copyright committee of the Boston Patent Law Association, said an item’s commercial significance influences the decision as to whether it is excused for fair use.
“If the university were playing this for payment in its movie theater, you would come out with a different result,” Polk said.
Polk said courts sometimes put great effort toward finding fair use in the case of copyright infringement by a nonprofit entity.
If the infringing use is likely to supplant the demand for the original work, it is much less likely to be deemed fair by a court of law than if the original work can be acquired for free, O’Rourke said.
She also said the legal system is often reluctant to excuse infringement with fair use because it is difficult to categorize use as fair or unfair.
A number of BU students said the decision regarding fair use should be dependent upon whether the video content was used purely for educational purposes.
“If it’s not being used for profit, if it’s being used for a good purpose, then I don’t see anything wrong with it,” said John Pavia, a College of General Studies freshman.
Pavia said if the copyrighted material is only being used in a classroom setting and cannot be seen by someone who might copy the material to use for other purposes, it should not be questioned.
Several students said they have had professors at BU who had scanned previously purchased textbook material onto Blackboard, BU’s online educational interface, for their classes.
“Textbooks are strictly for educational use, and plays [artistic works] can be used for different purposes,” said Rachel Podber, a College of Communication sophomore.
Rebecca Wolfe, also a sophomore in COM, said she agreed with the judge and the infringement was acceptable since it was for educational use.
“There’s no real problem with it and if it’s helping students then I don’t think Shakespeare would mind quite so much,” said Wolfe.
Podber said copyright infringement was acceptable as long as it was being used for educational purposes.
O’Rourke said copyright infringement is a disincentive for creative people to create new material.
“If we were to allow people to make these types of uses, it would adversely affect incentive to create,” O’Rourke said. “Those are the kinds of infringements you wouldn’t want to excuse.”