Meera Nair

what happened to January?

In Posts on January 31, 2012 at 9:20 pm

January seems all but a blur  – two new courses to teach are keeping me busy. But I had a glimpse of the outside world, long enough to notice the SOPA/ACTA protests, the growing list of digital lock dissenters, and the implications for Bill C-11. (Thank you, Michael Geist.)

Two other interesting developments occurred in the last few days. On 30 January 2012, Access Copyright issued a statement, describing an agreement reached with the Universities of Toronto and Western Ontario in relation to copying of materials in paper or digital form. The statement does not give too much by way of detail, other than to say a fee was agreed upon ($27.50 per full-time student), the agreement is backdated (how far back we do not know) and that an “indemnity provision increases the university’s legal protection against copyright infringement.”

The last clause is a curious one. It is unclear how precarious either university’s position was in terms of a viable charge of copyright infringement. But it invites the question — how stringent are the terms of the agreement as to have each university feel further protected?

Moreover, applying a set fee to all students, regardless of whether they use course packs or not, suggests a marked increase in funds flowing to Access Copyright. According to the statement, neither the universities nor Access Copyright knows how much copying is happening: “Over the course of the next year, a method will be jointly developed to assess the actual volume of copying of copyright protected materials which will assist in determining the appropriateness of the royalty structure in subsequent years.”

Could not the copying have been assessed first, and then the contract drawn up? In the meantime, as other universities have opted to do, permission and payment for copying could be handled directly with the publishers.  A task that is part of a publisher’s duty.

Howard Knopf has a good post about this matter.

A far more agreeable announcement came from the Association of Research Libraries (ARL). The Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries is now available. Developed in partnership with the Center for Social Media and the Washington College of Law at American University, the code describes reasonable copying that can be taken under fair use, in the pursuit of academic inquiry and higher education:

This code of best practices identifies eight sets of common current practices in the use of copyrighted materials in and around academic and research libraries, to which the doctrine of fair use can be applied. It articulates principles describing generally how and why fair use applies to each such practice or situation.  Each principle is accompanied by a list of considerations that the library community believes should inform or qualify it, limitations that should be observed to assure that the case for fair use is strong, and enhancements that could further strengthen that case.

Of course, fair use is not fair dealing and the American context differs somewhat from Canadian circumstances. But reading this code is instructive towards recognizing how Canadian practices may already support a healthy practice of fair dealing.

This is not the first such effort by the Center for Social Media, similar codes organized by genre or media practice are available here. And, the Center’s founder, Patricia Aufderheide (American University, Professor of Communication) with Peter Jaszi  (American University, Professor of Law) are the co-authors of Reclaiming Fair Use (2011).  Details are available here.

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