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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Legal Implications

I was standing on line waiting to appear at the Rutgers Graduation yesterday when my colleague professor Nancy Kranich began discussing a legal ruling that had just been handed down: 3 publishers against Georgia State University: http://chronicle.com/article/Long-Awaited-Ruling-in/131859/ That article explains the case and the ruling, and if you click through at the very end of the article, you reach this more detailed analysis: http://laboratorium.net/archive/2012/05/13/inside_the_georgia_state_opinion. As I understand it, the publishers claimed the college had allowed too much copying of their materials, while the college claimed the use of the materials fell within “fair use.” The big issues in the trial, then, were “what is fair use.” Though, as in all things legal, that large question was parsed into specific and smaller questions. The general consensus is that the ruling favored the college/library in about 90% of the issues, and beyond that created a more clear cut structure for what constitutes “fair use.”

Now speaking here as an author of nonfiction, I have some concerns about materials I have crafted being shared with classes for free, just because a teacher is allowed to do so. And yet what caught my eye in this case was something else. If I am reading Professor Grimmelman’s piece correctly, copyrighted works are protected (or more protected) in as much as they have been licensed for digital use — though this morning I see a last paragraph that says that book length single author works that are not work-for-hire do not require that license. My first thought on reading the licensing requirement is that this fits perfectly with my desire to see K-12 NF in digital format, so that teachers can license the use of individual chapters and sections. If the effect of this ruling is that publishers become more diligent about digital licensing, that is great. If this ruling has little to do with those of us who write single author royalty contract books, then I am more of a bemused bystander — with this exception.

I often think that those of us who write, design, and select art in NF for younger readers are ignored. We are not the big textbook houses fighting to control product. We are not the library systems fighting for fair use access. We are artisans crafting works designed to share ideas and information with younger readers. We pay permissions fees greatly out of scale with our market, and yet may be swamped by intellectual property rulings aimed at very different kinds of authors. We need a voice — and I hope some day to meet Dr. Grimmelman and others like him, to find out where and how we can be heard.