It looks like copyright holders, in their non-stop effort to make themselves look even more evil, are now aggressively going after university copy shops. Up in Canada, Access Copyright hasn't just won a legal dispute against a Toronto copy shop, but has gleefully seized the photocopiers from the shop
. Then, not all that far away in Eastern Michigan, a court found a copy shop to be directly liable
for copies made by students. As the post at the Exclusive Rights blog explains, you would expect the copy shop to be liable for secondary infringement, rather than directly liable... but not in this case. And that's problematic for a variety of reasons. Even the publishers in question didn't seem to think they had a chance on direct liability, and only mentioned it in one sentence, while most of the complaint focused on secondary liability. So why is this a problem?
The reason this matters is that to find someone to be liable under secondary infringement (contributory liability), a plaintiff must show that the defendant had knowledge or reason to have knowledge of the direct infringement. This is one of the two mechanisms, along with fair use, that shields libraries from liability if they keep a copy machine by their shelves. If an entity can be directly liable for providing and maintaining a copy machine, and taking payment for copies made on the machine, then libraries have lost a not insignificant shield.
So, watch out librarians. You may have just acquired a bunch of liability. Look out for copyright holders stopping by to seize your photocopiers. Update
: The author of that original post, Shourin Sen, has added an update, to take into account questions some people raised concerning 17 USC 118(f) which provides a special exemption for libraries -- but notes that those safe harbors could be under attack as well.