Copyright and the Demise of the Copier

There’s an article in today’s New York Times, in the Business Section (page C3) which reveals that Xerox profits have taken a downward turn and that its share price has fallen. Given all of the concentration these days on the ‘high-tech’ end of copyright, as well as the news-making cases of alleged plagiarism that have seen authors in court (and there’s yet another case, also in today’s Times, involving the author of the improbably named “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life” (page A14), its interesting to reflect on the story about Xerox and the reduction in use of the humble photocopier, source of so many copyright problems over the last decades of the 20th century and catalyst for so many changes to copyright legislation.

At various institutions over the last few years, and now at York, I have seen the evidence of this first-hand. Library statistics everywhere on photocopier use (and revenue from the same) have been dropping continuously, and this is even the case where we convert them to dual use as printers and add other functionality. We reduce the number of machines but the steady decline in usage goes on – and with it of course, the potential for copyright infringement via this ‘traditional’ means. Debate about what sort of warning signs, or whether to have warning signs at all, in the light of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Great Library case will be moot I think before too many more years have passed. Our students – and increasingly the faculty – copy and print less and less material. More do we all rely on online access and storage and screen-reading. As the technology improves that too will increase. What do I myself copy or print out these days? Very little so it turns out. The occasional recipe. Directions from MapQuest (obsolete if you have a GPS system in the car). Cases and journal articles when I’m researching something – buts that, I think, is more a symptom of my age and long-developed habit. Today’s students are developing other habits.


  1. Photocopier stats may be going down but I’m not sure people (or law students at least) are printing less. In speaking to the manager of one of the computer labs at the law school, he told me that the equivalent of 9.5 elephants of paper have been printed in that lab since 2001, and that is not including a couple of months that were not tracked. In fact, from the 1st to the 27th of this month there have been over 100000 pages printed in this lab with 40 computers. Photocopier stats are going down, but right now, law students around here anyhow, are printing instead of photocopying, I don’t think they have made the leap to saving and utilzing information in a digital format quite yet.

    However, I do expect this to change, I have recently run a survey of law students broken down by year that shows a significant difference in attitude towards digital information between 1st year and 3rd year law students.