Universities and their libraries have a special place in copyright law because they have a special place in society. Courts and even Congress have long acknowledged the essential role of copying in the educational process. That’s why the preamble to the section of the 1976 U.S. Copyright Act that outlines “fair use” specifies “teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research” as examples of “fair uses”—uses that, although they involve the copying of protected material, are considered noninfringing because they enable essential public goods.
Universities are not copyright-free zones—far from it. But they do perform special services that often demand flexibility and liberties that enable them to “promote the progress of science and useful arts,” the core mission of copyright as declared by the U.S. Constitution.
Sometimes, as the law professors Kal Raustiala of UCLA and Christopher Sprigman of the University of Virginia have demonstrated in their fascinating new book, The Knockoff Economy: How Imitation Sparks Innovation, the lack of intellectual-property rights or enforcement promotes the progress of science and the useful arts. That is often the case at universities.