Meera Nair

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.

  1. […] Meera Nair, NAIT’s copyright officer and a vocal advocate for fairer copyright, has shared a blog post that brings home the importance of fair […]

  2. […] Meera Nair on Fair Duty, “Fair Dealing Week 2019” […]

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