Copyright and the Advent of Xerox Machines

Project team

Meng Sung, Clyde Villacisneros, Stacy Hsueh, Rebecca Yang



Xerox machine came into prominence in 1959, and the new development signaled the beginning of a series of revisions on the copyright laws. The photocopiers made it dramatically easier for people to make copies of printed materials. The ease of photocopying created tension in different industries’ definition of “fair use”. Xerox machine triggered many copyright issues, and the conflicts between publishers and libraries in particular built up to a reexamination of copyright laws, prompting the society to make corrective measures. We looked into the controversial uses of the Xerox

machine by educational institutions and their effects on the publishers. We also examined specific court cases that had the most impact on the revision of the copyright laws. We approached the questions from the perspectives of the publishers, the libraries and the court. Our research led us to draw the conclusion that the Xerox machines exerted pressures on the government to make extensions and adjustments to the copyright laws, mainly the Copyright Act of 1976.

The events that led up to Copyright Act of 1976 were centered on the tension between educational institutions and publishing companies. Librarians and educators protested that they should be allowed to photocopy anything, while authors and publishers were agitated about their works being pirated. Interestingly, Xerox machines had not been a threat to copyrights in books. Massive photocopying had influenced mainly the publishers of scholarly journals. Because of the reduced cost of making copies, scholars who would previously subscribe to journals began to photocopy articles from these journals in libraries instead. Subscriptions to these already specialized journals dropped as a result. Copyright holders of scholarly journals claimed that the libraries had violated their copyrights and therefore should be charged for each photocopy they make. However, the libraries claimed that the photocopies were for research purposes and their rights to copy were protected by “fair use”. This issue had been abundantly controversial and therefore needed further investigation, hence the onset of the revision of the Copyright Act.

To support our claim that Xerox machines were the main driving force for the revision, we examined the court case that was brought about immediately following the prevalence of the Xerox machine. Due to the machine’s accessibility, efficiency, and its capability to mass reproduce materials such as journals, excerpts, and books, there was an expanding practice of photocopying which led to the duplication of more articles and excerpts from more publications. In 1973, Williams and Wilkins Co. concluded that its copyrights were being infringed and thereby suing the  U.S. government. The decision held that it was a fair use for libraries to make copies of articles used for scientific research. Since then, the machine had been the center of a furious battle over copyright laws. A series of court cases such as Encyclopedia Britannica Educ. Corp. v. Crooks (1978), and Harper and Row Publishers Inc. v. Nation Enters (1985) came into play during the 1970s and on as a result of the codification of “fair use” principle in the Copyright Act of 1976.  Changes made to the Copyright Act of 1976 were a response to the technological developments during the period of 1950s-1970s, and it all started with the advent of Xerox machine in 1959.


Liebowitz, S.J., “Copyright Law, Photocopying, and Price Discrimination.” 1 August 2009. <>

Liebowitz’s paper examines the impact of price discrimination by journal publishers on the working of copyright law. The paper offers an overview of copyright laws and pointed the ramifications brought by technology revolution. The economic of photocopying scientific and education works leads to the reconsideration of the factors that distinguishes commercial and nonprofit use. Balancing the benefits of copyright holders and the copiers is essential to the change of copyright laws.

United States. National Commission on New Technological Uses of Copyrighted Works. Final Report of the National Commission on New Technology Uses of Copyrighted Works. July 31, 1978.  Washington, DC, 1979.

The report provides a recommendation on new technology uses of copyrighted works based upon three years of data collection and analysis of computer-related and photocopying issues.  Specifically, Chapter 4 exams issues related to rights of copyright owners and the needs of the public who rely upon photocopying as access to copyrighted works. According to the report, photocopying in libraries is a major concern in this copyright protection. The article draw our attention to “fair use” and how advanced photocopy technology since the advent the Xerox finally lea to the adjustment to the copyright laws.

“In the Supreme Court of the United States.” United States Department of Justice. 20 July                                    2009 <>.

This article seeks to retort the question on whether an autonomous refusal to license or sell intellectual property that is protected by patent or copyright is linked to the monopolization and attempted monopolization. The series of court cases touched upon the Section 2 of the Sherman Antitrust Act. The federal circuit’s decision in CSU v. Xerox tips the balance of antitrust and intellectual property. Therefore, intellectual property rights can provide a powerful defense to antitrust claims.  Through the analysis of various supreme court cases in regards to antitrust laws and intellectual property, it is still not clear whether the Federal circuit placed a new significant restriction on the antitrust laws or whether it merely put an emphasis on an already strong preference for the intellectual property laws. In the future, courts will further investigate and explore the edges and limits of the CSU v. Xerox decision and its ambiguity since it did not provide an explicit guidance as to how aggressive patent holders will be in tackling the extension of their power over their licenses.

Hoorn, Esther, and Maurits Van der Graaf. “Copyright Issues in Open Access Research Journals.” D-Lib Magazine 12 (2006). D-Lib. 20 July 2009 <>.

This article presents results of a survey under a joint initiative by JISC and SURF, which are two education and research websites.  It explores the attitudes of authors in the UK and the Netherlands towards “open access. This open access environment has generated new copyright models, which stand in opposition to the traditional academic journals where the copyright has to be delegated from the author to the journal publisher. It examines the copyrights that emerged in OA journals –models for author keeping the copyright, sharing the copyright, and transferring only the exploitation rights to the journal publisher. In addition to these models of copyright, other results reflect that the academics prefer a change in the balance of rights within copyright between authors and publishers in scholarly communication journals. In response to formulating an ideal copyright license, the respondents want to permit the authors and others to reuse articles for educational and scholarly purposes. However, with regard to reuse for commercial purposes, most authors favor to limit this type of use by others unless they are permitted for commercial use by the authors themselves.

Samuels, Edward B. The Illustrated Story of Copyright. New York : Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, 2000.

In this book, Edward Samuels provides the history of copyright laws in terms of the controversies surrounding technological developments of different eras. Starting from the printing press and ending with the recent development of internet, he shows how these advances have shaped our current judicial landscape on copyright laws. Chapter one of the book examines the transition from printing press to Xerox machines in particular. Samuels first briefly reviews the invention of Xerox machines by Chester F. Carlson. He then goes on to discuss the different uses of the copy machine during the 1960s. He argues that Xerox machines have the greatest impact on scholarly journals because they threaten the copyrights of these journals by reducing their subscribers. To support this argument, Samuels goes over the Williams & Wilkins Company case, which deals with the conflict between publishers of medical journals and libraries that use these journals. He shows that the tension between publishers and educators has prompted the society to reexamine its copyright laws.

Morrison, Donald M. “What Hath XEROX Wrought? – TIME.” Breaking News, Analysis, Politics, Blogs, News Photos, Video, Tech Reviews – Time Magazine. 20 July 2009 <,9171,918139,00.html>.

This article from the Time magazine is written by Donald Morrison in 1976. He examines the impact of Xerox machines on offices and the general public. He argues that the Xerox machines have threatened to eliminate publishing. Morrison shows that in addition to scholarly journals, Xerox machines have affected newsletters and other “easily cribbed material”.  The main threat copy machines pose for these publishers is that copy machines enable anyone to photocopy journals and newsletters at an extremely low price compared to the original cost of subscriptions. Morrison expresses concerns for the lack of originality people are displaying due to the popularization of Xerox machines. Photocopying has taken the aesthetics out of copying. People are enjoying the photocopied materials less because of their impersonality. By presenting the negative impact of photocopiers on the society, Morrison calls for greater “discretion” and control on part of the people using these machine.

Other sources

Smithsonian Education. “Copiers.” 1 August 2009. <>

Standler, Ronald B., “Some Observations on Copyright Law.” 1 August 2009. <>

Timelines. “First Photocopier, the Xerox 914, is introduced to the Market.” 1 August 2009. <First Photocopier, the Xerox 914, is introduced to the Market>

“Copying v. Copyright – TIME.” Breaking News, Analysis, Politics, Blogs, News Photos, Video, Tech Reviews – Web. 03 Aug. 2009. <,9171,877716,00.html>.

“Copyright & Fair Use.” Stanford Copyright & Fair Use Center. Web. 02 Aug. 2009.  <>.

“Copyright Law: Appendix H.” U.S. Copyright Office. Web. 01 Aug. 2009. <>.

“Fair Use in Copyright (BitLaw).” BitLaw: A Resource on Technology Law. Web. 03 Aug. 2009. <>.

1988 Xerox Commercial. 1988. Youtube. Web. 29 July 2009. <Http:// Youtube. Web. 3 Aug. 2009. .>.

Perlman, Harvey S., and Laurens H. Rhinelander. Williams & Wilkins Co. v. United States:   Photocopying, Copyright, and the Judicial Process. Vol. 1975. The University of Chicago. The Supreme Court Review. JSTOR. Web. 1 Aug. 2009. <>.

“Professional Fair Use after Texaco.” The University of Texas System – Nine Universities. Six Health Institutions. Unlimited Possibilities. Web. 01 Aug. 2009. <>.

Kent, Allen & Lancour, Harold & Daily, Jay E. Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science. Taylor & Francis, 2003.

*The section, “Printers and Printing to Public Policy, Copyright”, mentions the CICP report of 1967. CICP stands for Committee to Investigate Copyright Problems.

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