Meera Nair

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.

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