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Williams & Wilkins Co. v. The United States Records 1938-1982 (bulk 1958-1982)
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Historical Note

On 27 February 1968 the Williams & Wilkins Co., a major publisher of medical and scientific books and journals, filed a petition in the U.S. Court of Claims against the United States of America. They charged that the National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health library violated the company's copyright by duplicating for interlibrary loan articles from journals published by Williams & Wilkins. By the time the case was finally settled by the Supreme Court in 1975, it had become a landmark case in library photocopying and copyright. While the Copyright Revision Act of 1976 addressed some of the issues raised by this important decision, others remain to be resolved.

The case developed from Williams & Wilkins's objection to the Library's practice of photocopying in lieu of a loan single articles at the request of other libraries. In initial conversations with the Library and in the petition Williams and Wilkins requested not that library photocopying be prohibited, but rather that the company be paid a royalty of 2 cents per page for each copy made of an article from a Williams & Wilkins journal. Because of the potentially broad ramifications of the case for librarians, information scientists and other users of information, many professional societies, including the American Library Association, the Association of American Publishers, and the Medical Library Association among others, filed briefs in support of the position taken by the National Library of Medicine.

The original decision by the commissioner of the U. S. Court of Claims, delivered on 16 February 1972, was in the company's favor. On appeal, however, the full court found for the government. The revised decision was upheld on 25 February 1975 by a 4 to 4 vote of the Supreme Court.