Meera Nair

Though this be method, there is madness in’t…

In Posts on October 10, 2014 at 9:38 am

This past week, news broke concerning the Harper Government’s consideration of a new exception to Canada’s Copyright Act. A benefit solely for those involved in the  creation and distribution of political advertisements, the proposal can only undermine three hundred years of statutory design on copyright law, which has progressively ensured broad language with flexibility to anonymous creators and users alike.

Reports began on October 8 from CTV and the Globe & Mail, with the CBC providing further details on October 9 (including posting the undated Cabinet presentation document). Michael Geist posted commentary on both the 8th and 9th, and copyright enthusiasts around the country are shaking their heads in disbelief and dismay.

Briefly, Prime Minister Harper and his cabinet are entertaining the thought of an exception to copyright that is only applicable to the political establishment. From the Cabinet document came this:

The exception means greater certainty for the political actors who want to use copyright content in their advertisements:
– E.g. clips from radio and television broadcast news, footage capturing a political debate or events, a newspaper or magazine article, etc.
– Could be used by all politicians and registered political parties at any level of government.

The rationale offered by the government is that politicians should be held accountable for their statements and actions, and this exception would ensure that the public is kept informed. The opposition parties see it as a thinly veiled attempt to facilitate the use of attack ads. While our Government is content to claim method, their behaviour is madness of Shakespearean proportions.

First, we already have an exception to address the use of copyrighted material; fair dealing protects unauthorized use for the purposes of research, private study, criticism, review, news reporting, parody, satire and education, provided the use is fair. Political parties should apply the law under the same constraints as all Canadians (if anything, in a more edifying manner).

Second, using published material to report or contradict political opinion is part and parcel of civil society as it exists. If a member of the political realm gives a speech, a reporter may quote from the speech. An opponent may choose to quote out of context. The audience may find such a tactic repugnant, but it is hardly new.

Third, in the copyright amendments of 2012, this same Government introduced a new exception, unofficially titled the YouTube exception which supports the creation of user-generated content. Section 29.21 is suited to the creation of both commentary and fantasy. While I find attack ads loathsome, they are creative expression and may draw upon the exception.

Fourth, the issue of moral rights is given short-shrift by this Government’s proposal. It claims that moral rights of creators would not be affected, via the logic that creators have likely waived those rights. Moral rights protect the integrity and reputation of a work and its creator respectively. Canadian law forbids allying a work to a cause if the creator objects. To blithely indicate that the Government will not suffer for misusing a work is further evidence that this government only cares about legal liability, not ethical conduct.

Fifth, this desire to embed a copyright change in an omnibus budget bill flies in the face of this Government’s own stipulation of a five year, comprehensive review cycle of the Copyright Act. If musicians and students, librarians and broadcasters must wait to plead their case until 2017, this Government must abide by the same rule.

Finally, the Government’s proposal makes curious distinctions that undermine the universality of the grant of copyright and the use of exceptions. That it is designed for a small segment of Canadians is reprehensible. So too is the manner in which genre and medium are parceled out. For instance, news articles may be used but not photographs or music. Documentaries are not eligible for mining (even though documentarians are among the greatest users of exceptions to copyright, making reciprocation only appropriate). Fictional works are also not eligible, despite fiction being a rich resource for modern commentary. Presumably though, fiction that has passed into the public domain may be drawn upon—I await the invocations of Caesar, Macbeth and Hamlet.

Canada has enjoyed ten years of jurisprudence that yielded a fair dealing regime capable of addressing all situations with flexibility, to the benefit of all Canadians. To muddy up the Copyright Act with a narrowly worded, politically-minded exception places future courts in the awkward position of having one approach when adjudicating copyright for Canadians and a separate approach when adjudicating copyright for Canadian politicians. This will not facilitate the understanding or practice of the system of copyright in Canada.

 

course packs at home and abroad

In Posts on October 5, 2014 at 8:21 pm

As I caught up on my reading, I discovered that course packs continue to make headlines. The September 17th issue of Outlook India featured “Copy This” by Gautam Bhatia; a few days later, The Varsity (University of Toronto’s student newspaper) published “After Access Copyright” by Iris Robin. Both articles speak to the continued need to probe the use of course packs with nuance.

Bhatia expertly takes readers through an ongoing dispute whereby in 2012 Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press and Taylor & Francis, instigated a lawsuit against a copy shop operating at Delhi University. The alleged crime was copyright infringement in the production of course packs. (I had previously written about the suit here.) Further coverage from Spicy IP indicates that many of the excerpts reproduced fell within the quantitative measure of 10% (see here and here) that is considered fair use by American courts in the context of education. The guidance of 10% is also followed by many Canadian educational institutions.

Bhatia indicates that Indian educational institutions are being pressed to adopt blanket-licenses with respect to provision of course packs. Aware of the culture of licensing and market-superiority that was once the predominant atmosphere of copyright in North America, particularly in the United States, Bhatia writes:

Even in Canada, a country immensely richer than India, the problem has been noticed. Canadian universities initially agreed to a licensing arrangement that was pegged at a reasonable price. Once they opted in, however, the price steadily increased, until it became unsustainable.

Canadian courts have been far more sympathetic to the predicament of universities and students than their American counterparts. In two important cases, they eschewed the economic approach, identified [fair dealing] as a “user’s right”, and imposed the burden of proving direct financial damage upon the publishing houses. The publishing houses were unable to meet this challenge.

On reflection, that is hardly surprising. If students are not allowed to copy, it is not the case that they will spend ten times the money upon the original textbook. In most instances, they will simply be unable to do so. They will not buy the book at all. And if that is true in a country as rich as Canada, it is certainly true—in a much stronger sense—for one as poor as India.

Turning to The Varsity article; Robin writes that course pack fees have increased since the university moved away from its Access Copyright blanket license. On cue, representatives from writers’ organizations provided comments of the I-told-you-so variety. Whereas Lisa di Valentino considers the larger question of why and suggests: “More likely, this is an issue with communication, specifically between the library and the instructors.” Noting Robin’s coverage – that the University of Toronto  is engaging in outreach to acquaint teachers with a better understanding of copyright and case law, as well as the myriad of possibilities to reduce costs to students – di Valentino concludes with:

UofT (and other AC-less institutions) is going through a transition phase. Procedures and protocols are changing in ways that directly affect how instructors do their jobs. Copyright is not just for lawyers and librarians anymore. Copyright literacy is fast becoming a necessary element of faculty members’ toolkits.

As publishers, teachers, and students wrestle with the seeming problem of piracy (with its seeming solution of licensing), it is important to remember that copyright only applies to “substantial” reproductions of work. An insubstantial portion of a work does not qualify for protection (see Section 3.1 of Canada’s Copyright Act, or Section 14 of the Indian Copyright Act). We only need to rely on exceptions such as fair dealing when the amount reproduced exceeds the insubstantial, and is not already legitimate use by other means (i.e., library-subscriptions, open-access, publicly availablility, or Creative Commons).

Fair dealing should never be summarily reduced to a measure of quantity – fair dealing can amply support reproducing 100% of a work, depending on the circumstances. However, from an administrative perspective, using a guide of 10% is prudent; the amount is not only cautious but it may not even cross the threshold of substantial. As long as teachers are aware that 10% is not the ceiling, and that fuller scrutiny via the framework offered in CCH Canadian  facilitates a legitimate decision to copy, the flexibility possible within the system of copyright will be preserved.

teachers and students, copyright and liability

In Posts on September 1, 2014 at 2:47 pm

Congress 2014 was held at Brock University this past spring; included among the customary panel discussions was a series of debates concerning copyright, fair dealing, licensing and open access. Titled Copyright and the Modern Academic, the series sought to widen discussion about the means by which information flow is facilitated in learning, teaching and research. Videos of the series are available at the Canadian Association of Learned Journals (see here) and at the Brock Video Centre (see here).

I was particularly interested in the third debate, Access Copyright—Friend or Foe, with speakers Howard Knopf and Roanie Levy. Knopf is a lawyer with Macera & Jarzyna, author of Excess Copyright, and a long-standing advocate for a more nuanced understanding of copyright and fair dealing. Levy is the Executive Director for Access Copyright, formerly General Counsel and Director of Policy & External Affairs for Access Copyright, and equally passionate about the roles of protection and licensing towards development of content. (Fuller biographies of both speakers are given approximately 5:30 minutes in.)

The arguments of Knopf and Levy were lively and thought-provoking, but what remains uppermost for me is the first issue raised from the audience at the beginning of the Q/A (at approximately 58 minutes in). It focused upon Access Copyright’s licensing terms that protect teachers and students in the context of teaching and learning, but not the subsequent behaviour of the student:

Most of us use Blackboard or Moodle; we upload links to articles, we upload articles, we create wikis, we want students to comment, we are creating a discourse community among our students asking them to critically analyze concepts or issue … It is not surprising that many times students download those articles and then those articles could now be posted on a student’s blog or on a student’s Facebook page … we all know how things move across the Internet. … I would personally find [the licensing terms] quite limiting, if I had to worry about that (emphasis mine).

Levy was reassuring that the discourse community, composed as it is of students and teachers (more broadly speaking, the educational body associated to the license) were safe within their actions. Levy was also emphatic that the educational community did not extend to the world at large: “students need to be made aware that content cannot just be shared with the entire world … sharing proprietary content that is not their own should not be encouraged.”

To which Knopf immediately stated that such sharing should be encouraged: “if what the student or professor is doing is fair dealing.”

Levy’s and Knopf’s remarks are not mutually inconsistent – quite the opposite in fact. Each statement reinforces the other. It is entirely plausible, and beneficial, for teachers to simultaneously state that piracy is undesirable and fair dealing is desirable. Discussion will, over time, encourage students to understand the nuance and care that goes into an evaluation of fair dealing. In the more immediate future, such conversation between teachers and students further exemplifies that post-secondary institutions take this matter seriously and are developing systems of good practice that amount to more than merely posting rules to a website.

Regrettably, with time running out and other questions waiting for attention, the crux of the first question was not addressed. More specifically, does a teacher have to worry about the personal conduct of a student outside the activities encouraged within class, with materials licensed at the choice of the teacher? The short answer is No.

A longer answer would suggest that in the scenario where a student’s personal behaviour is alleged as infringing, the copyright holder of the material in question might bring a complaint to the attention of the ISP providing the platform used by the student. Depending on the jurisdiction, the ISP might remove the material (under notice-and-takedown as found in American law) or forward the complaint to the student (under notice-and-notice as set within Canadian law). In neither case is the teacher involved.

An even longer answer would suggest that if anyone should insinuate that the teacher and/or university were liable, a look at CCH Canadian will quickly allay any worries. While that case is known best for its support of fair dealing, the Justices also confronted a claim that libraries were responsible for the conduct of its patrons with regard to self-serve photocopiers. Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, writing for a unanimous court, rejected that claim:

[E]ven if there were evidence of the photocopiers having been used to infringe copyright, the Law Society lacks sufficient control over the Great Library’s patrons to permit the conclusion that it sanctioned, approved or countenanced the infringement. The Law Society and Great Library patrons are not in a master-servant or employer-employee relationship such that the Law Society can be said to exercise control over the patrons who might commit infringement. … Nor does the Law Society exercise control over which works the patrons choose to copy, the patron’s purposes for copying or the photocopiers themselves (para 45).

If the Supreme Court of Canada has deemed that a library is not responsible for activity conducted within its premises, with materials provided by the library and via the library’s own equipment, because of an absence of control of people, materials, or equipment, then it is illogical to suggest that a teacher is liable for activity of a student, carried out by the student’s own initiative, on a platform independent of the classroom.

Regardless of the status of the material involved (licensed, purchased, or utilized through exceptions to copyright), teachers are not implicated by personal copyright infractions of their students.

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