Linking and COAPI's Response to Expensive Texts

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Posted: 09/13/2013

A New York federal district court holds linking is not direct infringement, but could be indirect infringement

I am frequently asked, is it acceptable to link to an item on the Web when it is difficult to discern with certainty whether the item is copyright compliant? My response in general is that one should first do a due diligence investigation and determine how reliable the site is. If the site contains many PDFs of articles but offers no indication as to whether the site has received permission to post these articles, one should be wary of linking to such a site. Further, in general, if one is looking to link to images on the Web, a safe route is linking to the Getty or the British Museum, rather than linking to a site called Mike’s favorite art gallery. So, common sense lends some guidance. That said, recently a federal district court in New York ruled that “without more, merely providing a link to copyrighted content is not direct infringement of the copyright in that content.” But the court did caution that although linking to images, articles and other content is not direct infringement, uploading such content to a server to which the link pointed could be an infringement. Also, linking to said content could constitute indirect infringement. So, for our purposes at the academy, it is a best practice to investigate a site before linking to content. Chose reliable and valid sites (e.g., the Library of Congress, a university website, an open access newspaper…), and do not link to sites that look like they negligently post copyrighted materials. It is also wise to be consistent in one’s actions, perhaps being repetitive, but always link to valid websites. For the academy, if one performs his or her due diligence and genuinely believes a website is being cognizant of others’ intellectuality property rights, then one should feel confident in linking to such a site.

COAPI’s response to expensive textbooks

COAPI has a Fox Business interview from August 29, 2013 linked on its site in which the interviewee from COAPI discusses potential open access alternatives for student textbooks compared to modern expensive texts. COAPI proposes grant and other non-profit funded open access e-textbooks written by professors and other experts that would be offered to students at no cost. In the interview, the question is posed “how is such a project sustainable if a grant runs out, or if a not-for-profit stops funding?” A deftly and logical response is given which depicts innovators continuing to fund such projects by providing tutoring or other academic assistance to students using these textbooks, and a portion of the fee for those services would be applied to sustaining the open access e-texts. Many other innovative business models would surface if such open access material is provided to students. Such new business models could benefit many stakeholders in the academic universe. For example, a freshman at the University of Florida State who participated in this interview stated she spent $200-300 on her print based books this semester. Offering open access e-texts to students from which they could print any amount of the content; annotate and collaborate online with other students; and interact with the e-texts via social media such as Twitter, Facebook, wikis and other sites; would provide a more affordable and collaborative learning tool that would create a rich-text learning environment for students. Creative innovators, such as the tutors mentioned above could create and charge the university/and or students realistic fees for perpetual tools that would assist students in leaning. Authors of these texts may even be able to generate better royalties, and thus actually gain more income than they would from the traditional publishing model. Or, authors may wish to simply have their content open for students to use for free. Regardless, there are a number of business models that would flourish and benefit many people if these open access e-texts are implemented. Rice University is currently experimenting with such an innovative model via its openstax College. I suspect other universities will experiment with these models as well.