Meera Nair

Posts Tagged ‘students’

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.

fair dealing for students (and their teachers)

In Resources on September 15, 2011 at 11:09 am

Last weekend’s conversation with artists was very enjoyable, but one thread of discussion was disturbing: copyright-angst continues to impede students’ learning experiences.  As I have written elsewhere, art is not well served by fair dealing.  But art created through an educational pursuit has better shelter through fair dealing.

I have yet to fully understand why copyright is an issue in terms of learning. What happens between teacher and student, in any discipline, is entirely their business. If a student handed in an assignment that is largely the work of someone else, the teacher would have a conversation about that. In all likelihood, copyright would not be the central focus of discussion – the teacher would emphasize the importance of doing one’s own work. But in the act of learning how to use other works in a manner befitting new scholarship, students will fall into fair dealing and the copyright concern is anonymously laid to rest.

Unfortunately, anonymity is no longer sufficient.  To that end, I’ve added a new resource page: Fair Dealing, for students.

Please, not now – I’m marking

In Posts on November 16, 2010 at 10:59 am

The misrepresentation of fair dealing continues – an op/ed here and a brief here. I’ll spare my readers the rebuttal that they have read so often from me (here, here, here and here). Instead, I will send everyone to Michael Geist – yesterday he posted a detailed response to the brief, Copyright Fear Mongering Hits a New High.

Right now – I have papers to mark.

The assignment I gave to my 146 students was to write an op/ed on any copyright related issue. There were a few requirements, including the need to provide some explanation of what copyright is. I implored my students to give their work some “life”! Many obliged; I particularly like the work of a student who clearly states his disinterest in documentary films and then gives a nice explanation of the copyright-induced headaches endured by documentary filmmakers.

This assignment is a regular feature of my teaching; students practice the art of prose and become further acquainted with the topic of copyright. Over the past year, some trends are showing in the writings of these twenty-somethings:
– File sharing is not the most popular topic.
– The topic of Creative Commons is rising in popularity.
– Copyright is an ethical issue; so-called solutions grounded on fixed contracts and punishment will not work.
– Digital technology presents challenges and opportunities, just like every past development in media technologies.
– Moral rights infringement is a greater concern than changing a business model for income stream.
– Students recognize that their own futures may lie in the development of intellectual property.

Granted, these students are pursuing the study of communication — the discipline is a staging ground for working in cultural industries. However, many students relate copyright and moral rights to their current life experiences — they reside in the world of the amateur musician, photographer, and writer. In a very insightful paper, a student spoke of her resentment that her generation was targeted not only by the music industry as the problem, but also by copyright-collectives as the cash-cow solution.

Back to the marking…

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