Princeton Demands Website Remove Elena Kagan's Thesis; Claiming Copyright Infringement

from the fair-use? dept

Obviously, there’s been lots of talk about Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan in numerous areas. There have been various reports concerning Kagan’s supposed views on copyright, but those seem pretty blown out of proportion from what I’ve seen and in talking to folks who know Kagan. She was a big supporter of the Berkman Center at Harvard, but that was part of her job. Other than her recommendation in the Cablevision case, there doesn’t seem to be much to go on. In fact, I’m considerably more concerned with the idea that one of the leading contenders for Kagan’s current job of Solicitor General is one of the entertainment industry’s favorite legal attack dogs who led the industry’s case in Grokster and was a major player in the Jammie Thomas trial before being appointed to the Justice Department (where he didn’t last very long before moving over to the White House as associate White House counsel). Still, if Kagan really is a big supporter of fair use, you have to wonder what she thinks of the following situation.

With everyone digging deeper and deeper to find out more about Kagan, the website Red State apparently dug up her undergraduate thesis and posted it to their website… leading Princeton to demand that the thesis be taken down — not, of course, for political reasons, but copyright ones. The University is selling copies of her thesis, and apparently the commercial value just shot up:

It has been brought to my attention that you have posted Elena Kagan’s senior thesis online…. Copies provided by the Princeton University Archives are governed by U.S. Copyright Law and are for private individual use only. Any electronic distribution is prohibited, as noted on the first page of the copy that is on your website. Therefore I request that you remove it immediately before further action is taken.

Of course, ordering that the document be pulled down pretty much guarantees that it will get spread more widely — and there’s definitely a journalistic reporting defense for posting the document (though, I’m not particularly convinced that anything anyone wrote in college has much meaning once they’ve spent a few decades outside of college). And, of course, in trying to get the document taken down, it’s just going to lead conspiracy-minded folks to think there’s more to the document than there is (in actuality, it’s a rather bland historical analysis, but you wouldn’t know that from what some sites are claiming about it). But from a journalistic standpoint, it seems you could make a decent argument for fair use in distributing the document. In fact, publications like Newsweek are already sharing parts of the thesis as well (mostly to debunk the hysteria around it). It’s difficult to see what Princeton gained in issuing the takedown notice, other than to rile up people.

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Comments on “Princeton Demands Website Remove Elena Kagan's Thesis; Claiming Copyright Infringement”

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bob says:

A sheltered life

Most of Kagans life has been spent within the confines of academia with only a small portion of it actually working in the real world.
Most of what she has said has gone against our republican form of government with it’s representative democracy.
The most troubling of her writings is that the government has a right to restrict freedom of speech if that speech is not liked by the government.
So I find her very troubling.
Not only for her socialist laments.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: A sheltered life

You might want to be careful tossing around words like socialism, using terms like that is usually the last resort of those who had no valid argument to begin with.

Case in point: I repeated Thomas Jefferson’s views on intellectual property without sourcing the quote to see the reaction I’d get.

Sure enough, the views of one of America’s founding fathers father were called unamerican and socialist. Heh.

Bob says:

Ms. Kagan

It seems to me that the Obama Administration has made a call to Princeton, much like they did to CBS. The scary part is that Kagan has a secret past, present and future. While we all know that she is a rubber stamp for the left-wing agenda… Why then, the attempt of trying so hard to conceal her views on just about every issue. Why the secrecy? Why the denials? Hmmm. BORK HER!

abc gum says:

What is the basis for their copyright claim?

Do they automatically receive copyright upon any and all work perfomrd by students? How is this accomplished? I could possibly understand if the student education costs were being paid for by the university, but this is usually not the case. I thought the student retained copyright upon all their work, guess not.

Guest says:

Re: Re: Re:

I guess it’s “false” that this is some sort of hard and fast brightline rule, but if you’re aware of any case finding fair use where an entire multi-page document was reproduced, I’d be interested to see it.

(In other words, “link?”)

Of course it’s all academic (no pun intended) at this point, as there’s no indication that Kagan *does* want to stop such use, and the Princeton guy that sent the e-mail acknowledged in some other interview that Princeton doesn’t own the copyright (and implied they don’t have exclusive licensee standing either).

dnball (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Two copyright rules to bear in mind: (1) each of the rights in the bundle of rights that comprise a “copyright” are divisible — which means that each may be licensed or sold individually, and (2) any “legal or beneficial owner of an exclusive right under a copyright” may sue to enforce that right.

Princeton does not, therefore, have to OWN the copyright — or even the constituent reproduction or distribution rights in the copyright — that attaches to Kagan’s thesis in order to file suit to enjoin others from reproducing or distributing the thesis. Princeton must only own the exclusive license to do either.

I have no idea whether Princeton owns the exclusive license to reproduce or distribute Kagan’s thesis. And I seriously doubt that it does. Bit if it does, it has standing to take lawful action to stop others from reproducing or distributing the thesis.

The resolution of this issue turns on the rights that Kagan conferred to Princeton by her submission of her thesis to Princeton in order to graduate. Both Kagan and Princeton are private actors — and so the contract [in the broad sense] that those two entered into for Princeton’s provision of educational services in exchange for her tuition will control. The documents that comprise that contract are multiple and varied – e.g., the student handbook, the university rules, financial aid forms, etc.

Art says:

I can definitely see the point about it being publicly available because it’s now about a high profile public figure, but anyone who has done secondary research knows that theses/dissertations are owned and published by the respective university, because research done at the university is theirs, and that you can make a request that your school’s library get either a physical copy on loan or get a copy for you. The latter does cost money, like $15-$60 depending on how large and popular it is, but the cost is incurred by your school, not you. If any individual does this, the cost is incurred by them. Love to see the conspiracy theories about this though.

And just so I don’t get accused of being a pinko commie for making a resoned response, I think a judge would make a better justice.

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