OUP Of Thee I Sing

Oxford University Press (OUP) is the premier university press. OUP’s content is top-notch, unparalleled in scope and difficult to match in quality. Being published by the press is a dream come true for many academics (even if a scholarly-dripped-with-ambition kind of dream). On a personal level, I can’t count how many times a book that I happen to pick up to read turns out to be an OUP-published book. I can say that being a OUP book signifies quality and whether a book bears the OUP’s logo is short-cut I often use to evaluate whether I should read it or not.

So I adore Oxford University Press. It creates incredible value for both the scholarly community and general but interested readers. On the other hand, OUP is one of the plaintiffs who sued Georgia State University for alleged copyright infringements for distributing copyright materials in its e-reserves to students for instructional purposes. (The district court has ruled in favor of Georgia State and ordered the plaintiffs to pay the university’s costs and attorneys’ fees to the tune of $3 million. The decisions are being appealed.) Kevin Smith wrote of the situation thusly

By electing to treat libraries as adversaries instead of allies, some presses demonstrate how far they have traveled from the core purpose of supporting the research and teaching mission of their universities. (GSU and university presses)

Elsewhere, he had even stronger words for OUP’s decision to appeal Judge Evan’s ruling in the case

The only excuse for their decision is the desire to force universities to pay even more money than the already do to publishers.  Prices are not rising fast enough, apparently, so greater income from permissions is required.  If other parts of the educational mission of universities have to suffer, that too is price the publishers seem willing to pay.

We can no longer preserve the illusion that all this was about was to provide some certainty about fair use for digital course content.  The publishers spent 6 million and now could walk away with a workable, if unpopular, standard.  Instead the battle against universities and higher education will continue. How sad. (The six million dollar fair use standard)

Now I know Kevin Smith is seen as an “outspoken copyright-reform and fair-use advocate” (fair enough). I have also read the publishersstatements on the matter. While I’m neither ready to wholeheartedly celebrate how the lawsuit turned out nor write off my adoration for OUP, this side of OUP makes my ode to it a bit sadder and more ambivalent than if I had just stuck with reading the press’s books.

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