Eleventh Circuit Reverses and Remands Georgia State E-Reserves Case (Again)

The long saga of the Georgia State University (GSU) e-reserves case continues as the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling which had found that the vast majority of GSU’s use of works in its e-reserves constituted a fair use. This is the second time the Eleventh Circuit has reviewed the case, and the second time it has reversed.

In 2008, publishers sued GSU for copyright infringement, arguing that the use of unlicensed excerpts of copyrighted works in the e-reserves constituted infringement. GSU defended itself, relying on the right of fair use. In the first bench trial, the district court ruled in favor of fair use for 43 of the 48 cases of alleged infringement. The Eleventh Circuit reversed and remanded the case in 2014, directing the lower court to re-examine its weight to market substitution and re-evaluate the four fair use factors holistically, rather than taking an arithmetic approach (i.e., if three fair use factors favor the use, but one disfavors it, fair use should always apply). On remand, the district court re-evaluated the four factors and found that 44 of the 48 cases constituted fair use. In her analysis, Judge Evans assigned each factor a weight: “The Court estimates the initial, approximate respective weights of the four factors as follows: 25% for factor one, 5% for factor two, 30% for factor three, and 40% for factor four.” The publishers again appealed to the Eleventh Circuit, which heard the case in 2017. (Here’s a link to ARL’s amicus brief in the second appeal.)

On October 19, 2018, the Eleventh Circuit released its 25 page opinion—more than a year after hearing oral arguments in the case—finding that the district court again erred in its evaluation of fair use. The Eleventh Circuit suggests that the district court was only mandated to re-evaluate its analysis on the second and third factors, but had instead also re-evaluated its analysis on factor four (in which the district court found in the first trial that in 31 cases, the fourth fair use factor weighed against fair use).

Additionally, the Eleventh Circuit points out that “The district court again applied a mathematical formula in its overall analysis of fair use,” which it had been instructed against. Although the district court couched the given weights as “initial” and “approximate,” the Eleventh Circuit found that the district court only adjusted these factors in four instances and di not adjust the other factors in the overall analysis. Thus, “We conclude that the district court’s quantitative rubric was an improper substitute for a qualitative consideration of each instance of copying in the light of its particular facts.” The Eleventh Circuit has remanded the case, directing the district court to use a holistic approach to fair use, and avoid any mathematical approach with respect to the four factors.

Another issue the Eleventh Circuit opinion addresses is whether the cost of purchasing licenses affects the third factor; the district court in the second trial considered the price of use on two ocassions. The Eleventh Circuit rules that price should not be taken into account when evaluating the amount and substantiality of the portion of the work used.

While the Eleventh Circuit reversed and remanded on the above issues, it affirmed the district court’s decision not to reopen the record. Publishers in 2015 filed a motion to reopen, asserting the need to introduce “Evidence of GSU’s ongoing conduct (e.g. its use of E-Reserves during the most recent academic term)” as well as evidence of the availability of digital licenses. Here, the Eleventh Circuit notes that this decision is within the discretion of the trial court.

Kevin Smith posted about the GSU case on In the Open, with an excellent summary of what the Eleventh Circuit’s opinion (as well as its last opinion) does not do, and what, as a result, the publishers have lost on:

…But the big principles that the publishers were trying to gain are all lost. There will be no sweeping injunction, nor any broad assertion that e-reserves always require a license. The library community will still have learned that non-profit educational use is favored under the first fair use factor even when that use is not transformative. The best the publisher plaintiffs can hope for is a split decision, and maybe the chance to avoid paying GSU’s costs, but the real victories, for fair use and for libraries, have already been won.