Meera Nair

fifteen years

In Posts on March 31, 2019 at 8:10 am

The Supreme Court’s decision of 4 March 2004, CCH Canadian v. Law Society of Upper Canada, ushered in a more progressive approach to copyright, by emphasizing that exceptions to copyright are a vital part of the system itself. The decision also coincided with the start of my doctoral research, at Simon Fraser University’s School of Communication. So it seemed only befitting to begin with CCH when I gave the keynote address last month at Balancing the scales: the role of fair dealing in Canadaan event organized by the Vancouver post-secondary community and hosted by Simon Fraser University.

One of the more fascinating aspects of studying systems of copyright is its variety of entry points. Enthusiasts of business, communication, economics, ethics, history, human rights, innovation, international relations, literature, philosophy, technology, and law, can all find a familiar theme within the ambit of copyright. Such an interdisciplinary nature is an asset; there are many signposts by which to navigate the route to effective public policy.

Yet copyright remains predominantly mired in the bland pronouncement of copyright is an author’s right. As to what that right means, whether copyright can achieve the expectation of authorial well-being implicit to the language of rights, that discussion is too often shunted aside. Complicating matters further in Canada is the propensity to wrap copyright in a maple leaf; a false, but politically effective, message portrays Canadian literature as dying and asserts that only more copyright can save it.

For my address, I took a little inspiration from Margaret Atwood and drew attention to the events that shaped both copyright and publishing in Canada during the late nineteenth-century. Namely, that those norms of copyright benefited only Britain and America, and deterred Canada from devising a system that would serve its own readers, writers, and publishers. The consequences of those years continue to be felt today; we cannot escape our own history. Fortunately, Canada’s ongoing success in literature is also a product of history, one carved outside of the regime of copyright.

The entire event is available here. (My presentation was the last one; click on Show Media and select: balancing_scales_role(4).mp4.)

On a personal note; that day in Vancouver, a dear friend was missing from the audience. James Woodburn Dean (1941-2019) died earlier in February. James, professor emeritus of SFU’s economics department, was an extraordinary champion of all students, regardless of their subject. His capacity for kindness was, and will remain, unparalleled to those who received it. As has been written of James, “He believed in the power of education and music and encouraged others to take bold steps.” To the extent that I can claim some success as a scholar, I am indebted to James for his indefatigable confidence in my ideas and unstinting friendship that continued long after completion of my doctorate.

Rest in peace James.

an ideal tariff

In Posts on March 14, 2019 at 7:15 am

Last month Howard Knopf reminded us that the Copyright Board is nearing completion of its work on the issue of collective licensing in post-secondary educational institutions. Under discussion are Access Copyright’s requests for tariffs on some unauthorized copying of copyright-protected materials. The Board has in fact invited parties to “comment on the feasibility and clarity of the terms of the tariff.”

While the documents pertaining to the proposed tariffs indicate that students are to be considered as “authorized users,” the aim of collective licensing is largely to address instances where teachers choose to distribute portions of copyright-protected works, often described as excerpts, to students.

Ideally, any tariff for a collective license would hew as close as possible to the principle of individual and fair negotiation between two parties for compensable use of content, and be based on a clear understanding, not only of the market, but also of Canadian copyright law. To that end, let us hope that the Copyright Board will engage in a thorough investigation of three hitherto-unchallenged assumptions, namely that:

  1. Unauthorized copying of copyright-protected materials occurs uniformly across institutions.
  2. Such unauthorized copying must always be paid for.
  3. Appropriate payment has not already been made.

1. The Scale of Unauthorized Copying

In the political arena, Access Copyright’s portrayal of unauthorized copying, as copying running amok at campuses, was met with neither question nor criticism. Ideally, the Board would engage in some investigation of this claim. At the very least, the Board should recognize that when a textbook is assigned to students as their principle source of reference, the question of excerpts (or course-packs) becomes moot.

For instance, a cohort of approximately 200 students pursuing the degree of Bachelor of Applied Sciences in Engineering at a reputable Canadian university are routinely assigned textbooks as their sole resource for learning. (Full disclosure: one of the cohort is my daughter. In her case, depending on what she might spend, she bought new books, used books, or on occasion nothing at all, relying instead on the copy held in the Reserves section of her institution’s library.)

An ideal tariff would ensure that institutions may opt-out on behalf of those students for whom their principal learning resource is not an assemblage of excerpts. While this strongly suggests that many students in the STEM fields will be removed from the FTE count, other disciplines may fall within the same framework. For instance, Nick Mount, a professor in the Department of English at University of Toronto writes: “In all my classes, undergraduate and graduate, I assign and expect students to purchase books, including many books by living Canadian writers. I stopped using course-packs years ago: they’re aesthetically ugly, and their digital replacements don’t work well in classrooms. To the best of my knowledge my colleagues follow much the same practice.”

The calculation of the tariff must reflect only those students who actually consume works by excerpt, but only when such excerpts are entitled to payment.

2. Some types of unauthorized copying 

i. OER.

The use of open-educational resources (OER) is becoming more common in Canada. These works, often funded by taxpayers, and developed by credible authorities in various disciplines, are released under open licenses whereby users (be they teacher or student) may adapt, copy, or post content without additional fees. While adoption of such resources is not uniform across the country, the trend is sloping upward.[1] The Board should take particular note of the efforts at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU), the first institution in Canada where entire programs have been designed on the basis of open resources and are now showing escalating enrollment.

An ideal tariff would ensure that institutions may opt-out on behalf of, and thus remove from FTE count, those students participating in programs for which the institution has actively sought to ensure a zero cost for materials, by developing and/or adopting OER content.

ii. Exceptions.

Within the Copyright Act are various measures[2] that permit unauthorized copying of copyright-protected materials; chief among these is Section 29 Fair Dealing. As use of Fair Dealing has been contentious, the Copyright Board might wish to limit its consideration of fair dealing to only that which has been supported by the Supreme Court of Canada. To that end, the famed CCH case of 2004 is instructive—the final decision was one of unanimity and the measures of content reproduced and accepted as fair dealing ranged from a few pages to 21% of an entire textbook.[3]

Naturally, quantity alone is never solely determinative of fair dealing; however, this must raise at least some question as to why Access Copyright is asking that educational institutions pay a fee for distributing content which may well be fair dealing. Particularly as prior to the amendments of 2012, the Supreme Court sanctioned classroom distribution of short excerpts which were supplemental to principal learning resources, under the auspices of the category of “private study,” within fair dealing.[4]

An ideal tariff would ensure that institutions may remove from FTE count, those students enrolled in courses where supplemental excerpts would sit within the threshold of fair dealing as appropriate under the authority of CCH (2004). As the Copyright Board itself noted in 2009, “CCH now is the unavoidable starting point of any analysis of the notion of fair dealing (para. 75).”

And while the Board’s discomfort was evident then, their careful adherence to the law paved the way to the Board’s more nuanced understanding of fair dealing as was exemplified in 2015:

In CCH, the Supreme Court of Canada stated that fair dealing can be made out either by demonstrating that there exists a general practice that is based upon an enumerated fair-dealing purpose, and, is in fact, fair, or by demonstrating that a particular copying event … was fair dealing (para. 223, citing para. 63 of CCH Canadian).

3. Fair remuneration for copying

Perhaps Access Copyright is behaving in good faith, and is simply unaware of changing patterns of development and distribution of educational resources. However, members of Canada’s publishing sector cannot pretend to be without guile, as it has come to light that they have chosen to license their wares for use in educational institutions, yet insisted to Canadian MPs that the educational community was not paying its fair share. In a comprehensive post, dated to 23 November 2018, Michael Geist laid bare the claims of some Canadian presses – that they were suffering for the lack of payment from educational institutions – when in fact:

… educational institutions typically purchase both access to the work and a licence for multiple uses and/or inclusion in a CMS. This means that the e-book licence replaces the Access Copyright licence, compensating publishers and authors while providing students and teachers with greater flexibility and value. Moreover, many of the licences are perpetual, meaning that rights holders are paid a higher upfront fee in return for no subsequent royalties or payments.

An ideal tariff issued by the Copyright Board would ensure that institutions do not pay a second time for content already paid for through voluntary market-agreements between parties.

From the profusion of briefs submitted to the Federal Government during last year’s Copyright Review, it is evident that, over the last seven years, consumption of content has evolved in the post-secondary community. Educational institutions have come to rely increasingly on licensed content, where licenses are of both the proprietary and open variety. Unauthorized copying reliant on exceptions to copyright is decreasing. And yet, if Access Copyright has its way, Canadian students will be charged fees to cover the costs assessed against their institution, regardless of whether that fee represents actual compensable transactions of content and use by each student.

 

[1] In October 2018, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) issued promising news with respect to OER: $1 billion of savings had been realized through global adoption of open educational resources. While the lion’s share of this savings was generated in the United States, Canada is onboard with OER development and adoption. Notably, the province of British Columbia alone achieved over $10 million in savings between 2012-2019.

[2] Section 29, Fair Dealing is principle among them. But also applicable to students’ learning are S29.21 NonCommercial User Generated Content and S30.4 Work available through Internet. Plus, there are a host of exceptions addressing Educational Institutions.  The proposals offered by Access Copyright presume to discard the very existence of exceptions; said another way, the very existence of the Copyright Act.

[3] CCH is predominantly known by the Supreme Court’s final adjudication of the case, but scrutiny of the case at the trial division reveals the amounts copied without authorization; see CCH Canadian Ltd. v. Law Society of Upper Canada. (1999)  Para. 136.  These copies were later accepted as fair dealing by the Supreme Court. CCH Canadian Ltd. v. Law Society of Upper Canada, 2004 SCC 13

[4] Alberta (Education) v. Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency (Access Copyright), 2012 SCC 37.

fair dealing week 2019

In Posts on February 24, 2019 at 7:36 pm

Fair Dealing week begins tomorrow with seminars, workshops, and discussion spanning the country. It speaks well of the efforts of post-secondary communities to raise understanding of its importance. Many fair dealing stories will circulate this week; I have one of my own to add. Fair dealing is personal.

My parents emigrated from India to Canada in the 1960s. As to why they chose Canada, my mother later explained the decision as a process of elimination. Both had grown up through the country’s Independence struggle and lived the life of noncooperation, whatever hardship it may have entailed. So Britain never made the list. The United States was given some consideration; but, in my mother’s words: “We had all wept over Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” And so “No” to a society that was still struggling to provide civil rights to all its citizens. Canada? It seemed nice, inoffensive. Years later my mother gave me these memorable words: “I didn’t realize we had left one colonized nation, only to join another.”

That the undercurrent of being a colonized nation still seemed to permeate Canada in the twentieth century hints at how close to the surface that current was in the years immediately following Confederation. Canadian industry was particularly affected, including the publishing sector. I cover some of this history in “The Geopolitics of Nineteenth-Century Canadian Copyright, as seen by some British Authors, in the recently published Canada 150 Special Issue of the Papers of the Bibliographical Society. This paper complements an earlier work of mine, “The Copyright Act of 1889—A Declaration of Independence,” published by the Canadian Historical Review, which examined the same events, from documents compiled by the British Government. Taken together, it is a reminder that copyright policy cannot be enacted in a vacuum–the effect of change is conditioned by history.

Returning to the theme in hand, prior to leaving India, my mother was a Lecturer in Mathematics and a freelance writer of some repute. In Canada, while my brother and I were young, she stayed home with us but would occasionally return to writing. However, multiculturalism was not yet a gleam in anyone’s eye, and diversity in publishing nonexistent. The views of a visible minority woman, no matter how educated, no matter how capable with her pen, were of little interest to the editors of the day. (No amount of copyright could change this.) And without the approval of the gatekeepers, there was no means to reach an audience.

My mother’s assays in writing were infrequent as it was a period of coming to grips with total responsibility for housekeeping and child rearing amid the inescapable isolation of immigrants, not to speak of the deflation of rejections. But one rejection will always stand out in my mind, because the work was praised by the editor (from Macleans no less) but still declined as it had been forestalled in timeliness. The cause of the delay? A well-meaning intermediary had insisted that my mother’s quoting of one sentence from Subject India, by H.N. Brailsford, required copyright clearance.

Because of that inept advice, my mother had dutifully written to the book’s publisher, who had then contacted Brailsford’s widow, who sent back a charming letter saying how happy she was that her husband’s work was still being read. But this provision of consent took time to reach Canada; in the meantime, Macleans had already chosen their content.

Fair Dealing matters. Individual writers, musicians and artists should not need to be well-versed in the intricacies of copyright law, to benefit by exceptions to copyright defined in the law. It falls to teachers, administrators, and distributors to have the confidence of knowing that unauthorized use may be lawful.

Note: Subject India is now available through the Internet Archive.