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CAUT Bulletin Archives

October 2001

Copyright Amendments Could Threaten Academics' Access to Information

The survival of academia's cherished "information commons" is on the line as Parliament gears up for another round of amendments to the Copyright Act. This time the focus is the impact of digital technology on the rights of creators, owners and users of copyright material.

According to Ken Field, a member of CAUT's intellectual property working group, the debate that will ensue in the coming months will be sharp and difficult. "For the big media and publishing conglomerates, digital technology presents an incredible opportunity to lock down their copyright property and prevent access to it by all but paying customers," he said. "If this happens, we can kiss fair-dealing and the public domain good-bye."

Industry Canada and Canadian Heritage have set the foundation for the debate in two consultation papers: A Framework for Copyright Reform and the Consultation Paper on Digital Copyright Issues. CAUT's submission along with others can be found at rp00007e.html.

Despite the public input (the majority of which is critical of efforts to restrict access to works), Field cautions the consultation process has to be approached with care. "Instead of looking at the big picture, the departments have carved off a narrow subset of digital issues of interest to the owners of copyright," he said. "We can't let this process be derailed in this way."

Of particular concern to CAUT is the issue of "technological protection measures." Owners are now protecting their property with technological safeguards such as encryption, in their fight to prevent unauthorized duplication of their works. However, these measures are themselves vulnerable to circumvention and the owners are seeking harsh legal sanctions against such acts.

The difficulty with protection measures is that while they may prevent illegal or unauthorized copying, they can also prevent the exercise of a whole range of legal statutory rights such as fair dealing, accessing works in the public domain, archival preservation and library lending.

Field says if the Copyright Act was amended to include an absolute ban on the circumvention of technological measures and the devices that facilitate that purpose, the effect would be to render meaningless many of the rights of access to works enjoyed by Canadians.

"The fundamental balance in the Copyright Act between rights of ownership and rights of access is under grave threat," he said. "The interests of academic staff are on the line."