Meera Nair

wrapping copyright in the maple leaf

In Posts on April 24, 2016 at 7:21 am

On Friday, The Globe and Mail published “Kids will suffer if Canada’s copyright legislation doesn’t change” by Kate Taylor. I usually enjoy reading Taylor’s work; her capacity to grasp the heart of an issue by delving into underlying facts is often impressive. Unfortunately, on this occasion, her exploration is incomplete and emotion is presented as analysis.

While amendment of the Copyright Act is a year away, there should be no doubt that lobbying has begun. As per the time-honoured script, the essential step is to wrap copyright in the maple leaf. The very fabric of Canada is under assault, and only strengthening copyright can save us all. The script makes for good drama, but is short on evidence.

Taylor, like John Degen last month and Heather Menzies earlier this year, places the challenges of Canada’s educational publishing industry at the feet of the 2012 statutory expansion of fair dealing. (Such a selective invocation of Canadian copyright-related history conveniently omits any mention of the role played by Access Copyright in bringing about the decline of collective licensing.) The claim that reduced revenue from textbook sales is due to unauthorized copying is not new. But when put to the Supreme Court, after consideration of all the facts, a majority of the judges felt that the conclusion did not logically follow:

Access Copyright pointed out that textbook sales had shrunk over 30 percent in 20 years.  … [but] there was no evidence that this decline was linked to photocopying done by teachers … several other factors [are] likely to have contributed to the decline in sales, such as the adoption of semester teaching, a decrease in registrations, the longer lifespan of textbooks, increased use of the Internet and other electronic tools, and more resource-based learning (para. 33).

But the rising use of Internet-based materials does not placate those who have taken it upon themselves to protect our children. Taylor writes: “ … teachers increasingly turn to free online materials, using fewer Canadian sources in the classroom and fewer materials directly tied to the provincial curriculum. [Advocates] are concerned there is no quality control of free material.” It is entirely plausible that the causality runs the other way: teachers are finding quality materials online, materials which also happen to be free. (The Khan Academy comes to mind.) But in the hands of those opposing any dilution of the traditional publishing industry, “free” and “online” are invoked with a dismissive air at best, or a pejorative connotation at worst.

Setting aside the prospects for alternative publishing models (for now), let us assume that Taylor’s, Degen’s and Menzies’ analyses are correct.  Let us assume that all the ills of the educational publishing sector are solely the fault of fair dealing. What then? Have any of them considered that years of expanding the scope of copyright has only meant that even more Canadian dollars flow out of the country than stay in? Since before Confederation, the market north of the 49th parallel has been dominated by foreign copyright holders. First British, then American. Copyright is a blunt instrument; any discussion of remedy via copyright should not ignore the trade imbalance. Applying copyright with broad brushstrokes through blanket licensing means fewer Canadian dollars are left to focus exclusively on Canadian creators.

Copyright governs much more than educational publishing, but even if it was confined to educational publishing, an important question has been left unanswered: Do Canadian sources make up the majority of all materials in all subjects taught in primary, secondary and tertiary education in Canada? If the answer is Yes, please provide evidence. If the answer is No, it is astounding that in the name of Canada, taxpayers, students and families are being chivied to provide more of our hard-earned dollars to predominantly benefit non-Canadian entities.

The effort spent railing about fair dealing could be better spent seeking measures that will target support directly to Canadian creators. Given the renewed spirit of federal-municipal relations, why not lobby for dedicated funding for school boards to support creation of open-education resources (OER) specifically to fill the need for Canadian content? Canadian history, geography, and politics could be addressed by local writers and illustrators, in collaboration with teachers, librarians, and archivists. How about seeking some manner of matched funds, to encourage every municipality to sponsor a writer-in-residence? What about expanding the existing Public Lending Right program to address nonfiction educational materials? A little imagination could bring about surprising dividends.

A Made-In-Canada approach to education is not a new concept. Law professor Myra Tawfik describes early 19th century efforts in Lower Canada to secure appropriate learning materials for children:

Lower Canadian teachers began to write or compile their own teaching manuals and schoolbooks. Preferring these to British or American imports and wanting to print multiple copies for use in their schools, they quickly discovered that the cost of printing their manuscripts was well beyond their means. Consequently, they began to petition the House of Assembly asking that it either assume the cost of printing or grant a sum of money to defray the costs (p.81).

Notably, when the House of Assembly delivered the requested support, it came with conditions regarding price and distribution.

As Canada approaches its 150th birthday, with a nod to the spirit that prompted the Massey Commission, the creation of the Canada Arts Council, and the emphasis upon Canadian Studies’ programs, it is time to focus on Canadian creators in a meaningful way.

 

celebrating a parody, 49 years later

In Posts on April 5, 2016 at 8:00 pm

The inclusion in 2012, of education, in the categories qualifying for fair dealing, has received disproportionate attention, made up of as much umbrage as applause. Far more important additions made at the same time, parody and satire, have almost gone unnoticed. Their protection was long overdue.

The first case in Canada to address parody against a charge of copyright infringement was Ludlow Music Inc. v. Canint Music Corp (1967). The dispute centred on the song This Land Is Your Land, written by Woody Guthrie (1912-1967). Canadian songwriter Alec Somerville, of The Brothers In Law, crafted new lyrics to Guthrie’s tune and retitled the song as This Land Is Whose Land.

But distribution was short lived. In a case which began on 6 April 1967 and ended on 10 April 1967, Somerville’s creation was declared as infringing upon the copyright of Woody Guthrie’s work. Jackett P. of the Exchequer Court of Canada granted an injunction restraining further sales of the album.

It must be noted that royalties were offered for use of the tune of Guthrie’s creation, under the premise that there were two copyrights at issue: (1) the copyright of the tune and (2) the copyright of the lyrics. While Somerville relied on Guthrie’s tune, Somerville’s lyrics were entirely his own creation. However, that offer was rejected and Jackett P. decided that both tune and lyrics are encircled by a song’s copyright.

Ironically, the tune was hardly Guthrie’s alone. Nick Spitzer of NPR writes:

Guthrie had a keen ear for the recordings of Virginia’s Carter Family, and he was not afraid to borrow. A 1930 gospel recording, “When the World’s on Fire,” sung by the Carters, must have provided the tune for what would become “This Land Is Your Land.”

In Ramblin Man: The Life and Times of Woody Guthrie (2004), biographer Ed Cray further traces the tune to the southern gospel hymn Oh my loving brother. But this too is hardly surprising. Creative effort necessarily relies, consciously or not, on borrowed aspects of earlier works–creativity is always a collaborative undertaking. Skillful borrowing is the very essence of parody as it must capture the distinctiveness of the original creation and the creator.

An essay published in The Spectator on 20 May 1853, makes this point forcefully:

Every line ought to make us say, that is pure Tennyson or pure Browning, as the case may be; though the notion of the poem as a whole being connected with Tennyson’s or Browning’s name, should be an instant cause of laughter. … The parodist, then, to be successful, must have the most delicate sense of literary form and the fullest sympathy of comprehension for the work of those he parodies, as well as a true sense of humour and a special dexterity in the use of words and phrases.

That capacity, to invoke an original, to have a fullest sympathy of comprehension of the parodied work, as well as to couple humour with dexterity when crafting a new work, might have been written with Somerville in mind. Just as Guthrie’s work was in reaction to the  syrupy nature of Irving Berlin’s creation God Bless America, Somerville provided a more accurate and irreverent view of Canadian history. His variation on Guthrie’s song was expressly intended for release in 1967, the year of Canada’s centenary. (The album carrying the song was titled Exposé 67.)

Yet that fact likely added to the problem; the dispute was not settled on musicology alone. In 1959, Ludlow Music Inc. had licensed Guthrie’s work for adaptation and distribution in Canada, via revisions prepared and performed by The Travellers. The rights for this authorized Canadian version were held by Ludlow Music Inc. and the song was to play a prominent part in the centennial celebrations of 1967:

This song is a patriotic song and has been widely distributed in schools throughout Canada. The song will again be published in 1967 by the Centennial Commission in the songbook “Young Canada Sings — “Le Jeune Canada Chante”, 10,000 copies of the songbook will be distributed throughout Canada. Attached … is a copy of a letter from The Centennial Commission to Ludlow Music, Incorporated requesting permission to use the song “This Land is Your Land”. Ludlow Music, Inc., has consented to such use in both 1966 and 1967 (para. 11).

Ludlow Music Inc., unimpressed with Somerville’s work, sought to protect the innocence of the Canadian public:

… the use of words which are in bad taste and insulting to the Canadian public with the music of the composition “This Land is Your Land” will cause incalculable damage to the Plaintiff and destroy the meaning and acceptance of the song in the minds of the Canadian public (para. 12).

It is difficult to assess Canadian sensibilities of 49 years ago, but likely we are more resilient today. Canadians may judge for themselves, the merits of This Land Is Whose Land.

 

 

 

omitting facts, ignoring logic

In Posts on March 3, 2016 at 7:18 pm

Yesterday John Degen (poet, novelist and executive director of The Writers’ Union of Canada) presented his views concerning copyright and education via The Hill Times. The publication is behind a paywall, making it less than easy to acquire, read, or rebut. But if one is trying to lobby Parliament, the venue of publication is appropriate.

Degen is entitled to his opinions, but does readers a disservice by the distortion of history he presented. There might have been reasonable entertainment value from the diatribe, had the issue not involved the intellectual property rights of generations to come. Our parliamentarians could be forgiven for initially thinking that the copyright amendments of 2012 jettisoned the entirety of Section 3.1 (rights of copyright owners), exclusively to the benefit of teachers and students.

But may we assume that any Member of Parliament, in the face of such a hysterical outburst, as opposed to considered judgments from the Supreme Court of Canada, will investigate the rights and wrongs of the matter? That investigation would lead to the following facts:

  • Copyright is a system of limited rights, whereby the limits ensure balance is struck between the rights of copyright owners and rights of copyright users.
  • Fair dealing is one means by which limits are exercised; fair dealing is not piracy.
  • Fair dealing allows for some unauthorized uses of copyrighted material, subject to a fairness analysis.
  • That analysis was shaped by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2004; the justices have since walked-the-walk on multiple occasions.
  • In 2012, the range of fair dealing was expanded from only the options of private study and research, to include education, parody and satire.
  • Every Supreme Court decision supporting fair dealing occurred before the 2012 amendments took effect. Meaning, the inclusion of education was superfluous to establishing balance between owners’ rights and users’ rights.
  • Educational institutions make significant payments for purchased or licensed materials; the difference now is that such payments tend to flow directly to copyright owners and not to a middle-man collective entity such as Access Copyright.
  • Perfunctory announcements of declines in author’s incomes are, no more than perfunctory! One has to look at the larger context of any situation. A favorite report pointed to by The Writers’ Union (and Access Copyright) is a creation by PricewaterhouseCoopers which paints a dire picture of declining income to the educational textbook industry, with the seeming conclusion of an impending loss of quality educational content. However, the analysis within the report omits such basic details as the advent of quality content via open education resources and the global economic mayhem which began in 2008 and ensured individuals/institutions had less dollars to spend for years thereafter. Details are here.
  • The process of setting tariffs by the Copyright Board is complex, and educational institutions themselves are puzzled at the lack of involvement by national representatives. But to attribute a spiteful motive to Canadian education as a whole is hardly worthy of anyone who claims to be a standard bearer for the preservation of Canadian culture.

Some weeks ago Degen’s colleague Heather Menzies also presented her interpretation of history with respect to educational uses of copyrighted material; my rebuttal is here. It appears that the Writers’ Union of Canada is eager to wrap copyright in the maple leaf and hope that Canadians will overlook the absence of facts or logic.

 

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