Pennsylvania Avenue copy center faces lawsuit

Seven publishing companies are suing a Foggy Bottom copy shop for allegedly reproducing classroom materials without permission.

Publishing firms from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University and England’s University of Oxford, along with four other companies, filed a suit last week accusing Washington Printing and Copy Center, at 2100 Pennsylvania Ave., of “routinely and systematically” reproducing materials without copyright clearance.

Employees at the copy center declined to comment about the case.

The publishers have identified 44 different instances of alleged unauthorized copies made for GW classes. The class subjects range from psychology to journalism to political science. Additionally, the publishers believe that there are many more undiscovered instances of copyright infringement.

Copy shops such as Washington Copy collect and bind compilations of selected readings on behalf of professors in books known as course packs. Course packs usually include collections of book excerpts, journal articles and other readings that are bound and then sold to students for a profit.

Even though Washington Copy does much of its business with the University, the lawsuit poses minimal consequences for the University, GW officials and a lawyer representing the publishers said.

Linda Schutjer, a GW lawyer, said she does not think the case will have legal ramifications for the University. Washington Copy is located in a GW-owned office complex.

Bill Strong, one of the lawyers for the publishing companies, said his clients have “no reason to fault the school” and said he believes the University had no knowledge of the allegedly illegal acts.

GW Law Professor Robert Brauneis, an expert on trademark law, said that if Washington Copy is found guilty, students may have to absorb the licensing fees, which he said are “not very high.” Most licensing fees run at 10 or 12 cents per page copied, according to Copyright Clearance Center, the non-profit organization that oversees copyright clearances.

Strong said there will be no consequences for students who are using illegally copied course packs for classes this semester.

“All we’re trying to do is raise the consciousness of the copy industry,” he said.

Prosecuting copyright infringement cases for educational purposes changed dramatically after 1991. That year, a suit brought against Kinko’s Graphic Corp. found that producing course packs fell under commercial instead of educational purposes. Since then, publishers have brought multiple suits against copy centers for copyright infringement, and in most of the cases, the publishers win.

Obtaining a license to reproduce copyright materials is not difficult, Brauneis said. The process requires that the copier visit the Copyright Clearance Center’s Web site and request reproduction rights.

Brauneis said many copy shops believe that they are “under the radar” and that they can get away with selling the course packs at a lower price than competitors.

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