Journal of Intellectual Property Law, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Fall 1994), pp. 183-218


The issue dealt with in this amici curiae brief is the judicial ability (or inability) to take away rights granted by Congress in 17 U.S.C. S 107, the fair use doctrine.

On June 9, 1994, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division, issued an opinion in Princeton University Press v. Michigan Document Services, Inc., granting several publishers a permanent injunction prohibiting a commercial copying service from photocopying excerpts from copyrighted works chosen by professors and compiled as course packets to be used by university students in class. The court held that such photocopying was not a fair use even though the course packets were sold to and used by students. The defendants-appellants have filed an appeal with the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. This brief was filed by eleven copyright professors in support of the defendants-appellants. Counsel for the plaintiffs-appellees filed a motion to exclude this amici curiae brief.

This decision continues the trend of limiting the fair use doctrine in the context of learning and research as in Basic Books, Inc. v. Kinko's Graphics Corp. 758 F. Supp. 1522 (S.D.N.Y. 1991) and American Geophysical Union v. Texaco 37 F.3d 881 (2nd Cir. 1994). The Supreme Court has clearly identified the nature and purpose of copyright and fair use in Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Services Co., 499 U.S. 340 (1991) and Campbell v. Acuff- Rose Music, Inc., ___ U.S. ___, 114 S. Ct. 1164 (1994). The amici brief argues that the district court failed to follow these binding precedents.

This debate is of particular interest to students and professors who until recently have had the freedom to use copyrighted materials in research and in classroom work, consistent with the constitutional mandate that copyright promote learning. On a broader scale, the decision redraws the parameters of the fair use doctrine, with implications for other aspects of copyright law.

It should be noted that the Association of Research Libraries, which includes 108 university based research libraries plus the national Libraries of Canada and the United States, became a signatory of the brief after it was filed. The National Libraries of the United States include the Library of Congress and the National Library of Medicine.