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CAUT Bulletin Archives

May 2016

Academics reboot on copyright

“It’s like getting the old band back together,” says Carla Graebner, chair of the CAUT librarians’ and archi­vists’ committee. “A decade ago educators built a powerful coalition that fought for and won progressive copyright reforms. These reforms are now under threat, from international trade negotiations and from an upcoming review of the Copyright Act. It’s time to reassemble the team, and protect our victory.”

The victory Graebner speaks of is the policy transition in Canada from a publisher-centered view of copyright towards one in which the rights of the users of copyrighted material share equal recognition. For teachers, students and researchers the most important advance has been fair dealing — the right in certain circumstances to use literary and artistic works without permission or payment. As a result of the education sector’s advocacy, both the Supreme Court and Parliament adopted a large and liberal interpretation of fair dealing, allowing material to be used, shared and repurposed in convenient and cost-effective ways. This new perspective, however, has not sat well with the publishing community.

“Absolutely there is a campaign against these changes,” says Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law at the University of Ottawa. “Access Copyright and publisher groups are actively lobbying Parliament to roll back the advances, especially in regard to fair dealing.”

He says it is critically important that academics re-engage in the political process on these issues, noting that despite setbacks, publishers have not given up their determined advocacy. “It is imperative that faculty and librarians begin speaking to their MPs, and the broader public, emphasizing how important the changes have been and why they need to be protected.”

A key battleground in this renewed debate will be the mandatory parliamentary review of the Act in 2017. “CAUT is mobilizing for the event,” says Graebner, “preparing material and reaching out to our traditional copyright allies in student groups, consumer organizations, and colleagues in university and college administrations.”

Although she notes that the focus will be in part defensive — protecting what has been won, she also signals that there is room for offense — pressing for changes in areas where the education community fell short of its goals in the last round of reform, such as rights to circumvent digital locks for lawful purposes.

Beyond the government’s review, Geist also cautions that powerful international forces could hijack the copyright conversation.

“As important as the domestic discussion is, international trade negotiations such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the TPP, have an even greater potential to disrupt the education sector, especially the push to extend the term of copyright protection,” he says. “It is vital that we become educated about the TPP and its copyright rules and encourage the current government, which didn’t negotiate the treaty, to think twice about our potential participation in it.”