Law School Case Brief
Cambridge Univ. Press v. Patton - 769 F.3d 1232 (11th Cir. 2014)
The fair use doctrine provides a means by which a court may ascertain the appropriate balance in a given case if the market actors cannot do so on their own. Fair use is a defense that can excuse what would otherwise be an infringing use of copyrighted material. 17 U.S.C.S. § 107. To prevail on a claim of fair use, a defendant must convince the court that allowing his or her unpaid use of copyrighted material would be equitable and consonant with the purposes of copyright. In order to make this determination, the court must carefully evaluate the facts of a case in light of four considerations, which are codified in the Copyright Act of 1976: (1) the purpose of the allegedly infringing use, (2) the nature of the original work, (3) the size and significance of the portion of the original work that was copied, and (4) the effect of the allegedly infringing use on the potential market for or value of the original. These factors establish the contours within which a court may investigate whether, in a given case, a finding of fair use would serve the objectives of copyright.
Plaintiffs, three publishing houses, Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press, and Sage Publications, Inc., alleged that Defendants, members of the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia and officials at Georgia State University (GSU) infringed Plaintiffs' copyrights by maintaining a policy which allowed GSU professors to make digital copies of excerpts of Plaintiffs' books available to students without paying Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs alleged 74 individual instances of infringement, which took place during three academic terms in 2009. The District Court issued an order finding that Plaintiffs failed to establish a prima facie case of infringement in 26 instances, that the fair use defense applied in 43 instances, and that Defendants had infringed Plaintiffs' copyrights in the remaining five instances. In weighing the fair use factors to assess each of the 48 instances of alleged infringement for which the District Court found that Plaintiffs had established a prima facie case, the District Court held that fair use applied whenever at least three of the four factors favored Defendants.
Did the district court err in holding that fair use apply whenever at least three of the four factors favored defendants?
According to the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, fair use had to be determined on a case-by-case basis, by applying the four 17 U.S.C.S. § 107 factors to each work at issue. Here, the Court held that the district court erred in giving each of the four factors equal weight, essentially taking a mechanical "add up the factors" approach, finding fair use if three factors weighed in favor of fair use and one against and vice versa, and only performing further analysis in case of a tie. As such, the Court reversed the judgment and remanded to the lower court for further proceedings.
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