Association of College & Research Libraries

Librarians Win Williams & Wilkins Reversal

Robert Wedgeworth, executive director of ALA, recently issued the following statement on the Williams & Wilkins decision.

On November 27, 1973, the U.S. Court of Claims issued a historic decision with respect to Williams & Wilkins vs. the United States. Plaintiff, the Williams & Wilkins Company, a medical publisher, had charged that the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) through the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the National Library of Medicine (NLM) had infringed plaintiff’s copyrights in certain of its medical journals by making unauthorized photocopies of articles from those journals. The court decided in favor of the government in this case. The key factor in the decision in the court’s opinion was that the plaintiff failed to sustain the assumption that the defendant’s photocopying activities were, in fact, injurious to the financial health of the journals concerned. While we may hail this as an important victory, we must keep in mind that the court indicated in its decision that the problem of photocopying materials under copyright would be best resolved through legislation. This means that with respect to a revision of the copyright law, there is a great deal of work ahead in order to assure that such a law protects the public interest with respect to access to information consistent with the decision of the U.S. Court of Claims.

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