Seven publishing companies filed a complaint for copyright infringement against a George Washington University copy center Wednesday for illegally selling copyrighted materials to students.

The Washington Printing and Copy Center, a large source of printing materials for GW faculty, staff and students, recently began selling “coursepacks” to students. Coursepacks usually include anything from journal articles and excerpts from books to case studies and other materials selected by course instructors as required reading for their classes.

To comply with copyright law, copy centers must get the appropriate permission to distribute materials and pay any required royalty fees to fairly compensate the respective copyright holders.

The publishers claim that Washington Printing and Copy Center “routinely and systematically copied and sold their copyrighted works in coursepacks without obtaining the necessary permission to reproduce the content,” Kristin Cronin, a partner for Lois Paul and Partners, a public and investor relations firm based in Boston, said.

The publishers bringing the lawsuit include Blackwell Publishing, Polity Press, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Oxford, Princeton University Press, Sage Publications and the University of Chicago.

The publishing companies identified at least 44 separate and distinct instances of specific unauthorized copying by the copy center during the past three years, according to the complaint filed by the companies, who also believe that this copying is representative of a much larger pattern of unauthorized copying.

The lawsuit does not directly involve George Washington University, Tracy Schario, director of media relations for GWU, said.

“Teachers tell copy shops directly what they want in their anthologies, so this has no direct implications for the university,” William Strong, counsel for the publishing companies, said.

Song Han, the owner of Washington Copy and the defendant in the lawsuit, declined to comment on the complaint brought against him.

Cronin maintains that copyright infringement cases such as these mark the growing problem of copyright infringement in the text publishing industry.

“Publishers suffer serious financial injury if copyright law is not respected,” she said. “A substantial decline in royalty income could cause publishers to cease publication of one or more deserving books or journals.”

Strong has a history in bringing lawsuits against such companies that continue to infringe on copyright law, stating that serious copyright infringement started as early as 1991, where a case brought against Kinko’s Copy Center resulted in substantial damages to the plaintiffs.

Strong recounted a similar lawsuit against a Michigan copy center during the mid-1990s that subsequently called attention to publishing committees taking action against copyright infringers.

“This was a real wake-up call to the copy industry,” Strong said. “We will continue to send a message to people who are not following the law.”

Strong also maintained that followers of copyright law are put at a serious disadvantage when violators are committing these serious offenses.

“We want to clear up the problems with those who are making a profit from fees that they should be paying to publishers,” he said.

The publishers’ complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, and the lawsuit is being coordinated by the Copyright Clearance Center.

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