Gnomon case pending, profs use other sources

Gnomon case pending, profs use other sources

Ten months after at least nine publishing giants brought a lawsuit against Gnomon Copy, details about the case remain murky.

The companies accused Gnomon Copy of 69 cases of copyright infringement in Boston’s Federal District Court in November because the copy shop reproduced Northeastern’s coursepacks without getting the publisher’s permission.

Meanwhile, some professors are taking steps that no legal complications arise when they provide course materials to their students.

Professor Stephen Burgard, who chairs the School of Journalism, still uses coursepacks, but said the process isn’t perfect.

“The problem is it takes time [for NU Reprographics to obtain copyrights], but it’s worth doing, because it seems to avoid a problem,” Burgard said.

A memo that the Office of the University Counsel sent to university faculty Nov. 28, 2005 reminded faculty “of the importance of complying with federal copyright laws.” The memo emerged after media reports about the lawsuits that several publishers filed against copy shops, one of which was Gnomon Copy.

Burgard said after he saw the memo, his academic department and others began to think about what needed to change in order to act in accordance with the law. He submitted course materials for coursepacks to NU Reprographics instead of Gnomon Copy for the semester after he saw the memo, but he did not receive the coursepack on time. So he had Gnomon Copy produce the coursepack for the spring semester and switched over to NU Reprographics this semester.

The News reported on the lawsuit last November.

The memo also stressed the implications of submitting information for reproduction through coursepacks.

“We emphasize to members of the faculty that when they authorize the publication of course materials for class room [sic] use, they are responsible for obtaining, or insuring that their copy shop obtains, the necessary permissions to reproduce any copyrighted materials included in the coursepack,” the memo said. “Failure to do so may result in personal liability.”

The memo went on to suggest that professors visit NU Reprographics, located in the basement of either the Forsyth Building or Ell Hall, for legally protected coursepack production.

“NU Reprographics at Northeastern University offers a service to Northeastern University faculty members for the preparation of coursepacks,” the memo said. “As part of this service, Reprographics routinely obtains the necessary permissions to use any copyrighted material included in each coursepack. The cost of obtaining such permissions is pro-rated into the price of the coursepack when it is sold to students through the Northeastern University Bookstore.”

William Corrigan, the manager at NU Reprographics, echoed that sentiment, reiterating that the center secures copyright protection for course materials.

“Our policy is to secure copyright permission for anything with a copyright,” Corrigan said.

Political science professor and department chair John Portz said he has noticed that political science professors are abandoning course-packs and instead providing students with course materials through the Web.

“I see a bit of a trend [in the past five years] where faculty are checking out or trying to find available articles that are publicly available online and then what they do is reference those articles actually on the syllabus,” Portz said.

“I myself did it this past year, in the spring, for a graduate course,” Portz said. “I had some outside readings, and I found them on JSTOR, so I just gave the students the reference rather than printing it off as a course packet.”

Christopher Bosso, another political science professor and the founding associate dean of Northeastern’s School of Social Sciences, agreed, emphasizing online resources.

“Blackboard makes it very easy to link up to the university’s library, and all the electronic journals, and all the kinds of resources in the library, which we already paid for, to enable students to get access to those materials without having to worry about Reprographics,” Bosso said.

But Ronald Sandler, an assistant professor of philosophy, still uses coursepacks, as does Burgard.

“The reason I still use coursepacks is it’s less expensive to the students, even after they pay the copyright fee and production costs associated with it, than to buy the expensive collections through the publishers,” Sandler said. “And it allows me to put in there exactly what I want to teach, as opposed to the publishers’ books, which has these selections and then you’re sort of constrained to picking what it is from their list.”

Neither William Strong, a lawyer at Kotin, Crabtree and Strong, the firm representing the publishing companies in the lawsuit, nor Gnomon Copy management could be reached for comment about the lawsuit’s status.

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