Meera Nair

Posts Tagged ‘CFS’

An Open Letter

In Posts on February 20, 2010 at 9:55 am

February 20, 2010

Honourable Tony Clement
Minister of Industry
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

Re: Copyright for Canadians

Dear Minister Clement,

In September 2009 I responded to the Federal Government’s call for input towards revision of Canada’s copyright law. You and your colleague, Minister Moore, appeared genuine in your efforts to design a copyright policy that will be forward thinking and operate for the betterment of all Canadians. As previous ministers of both Liberal and Conservative inclination have shown a disturbing tendency to look to the American entertainment industry for input to Canadian law, your position was a refreshing change. However, my optimism has faded in light of the following matter.

During the consultations the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) attended a town hall meeting in Toronto. As speakers were to be chosen by lottery, the students were aware that they might not be afforded the opportunity to speak. They prepared a flyer stating the CFS position on copyright and tried to distribute it amongst other attendees. Their proposal included: expanded fair dealing, regulation of technological protection measures, a proposal of “notice and notice” to limit ISP liability, and the elimination of crown copyright. Notably, this position is shared by many Canadians, including those involved in the high-technology growth industries, education, and the independent music industry. This same position would also be described as anathema to the American-backed members of the entertainment sector.

The distribution of the flyer was halted by the event’s organizers and security staff informed the students to desist or be removed from the premises. That representatives of the Federal Government of Canada felt the need to prevent the peaceful distribution of a flyer is discouraging at best and a violation of Charter rights at worst. I asked my Member of Parliament, Bill Siksay, to investigate the matter.

Mr. Siksay’s office forwarded to me the response received from your ministry. In a letter signed in your name, it states:

The town hall events were very popular and the Toronto event filled up weeks in advance. Recognizing that time would not permit everyone a chance to speak, a lottery system was used to give all participants an equal opportunity to make their views known. As I understand, CFS chose to distribute leaflets at the event in response to this lottery system. Based on the need to ensure that participants at the event were able to efficiently and securely register and access the meeting room, CFS representatives were requested to not conduct this activity at the venue.

I asked Ben Lewis, the Communication Coordinator of the CFS, for a comment on this letter. He indicated that neither he, nor any other students involved, had been contacted by the Minister’s office. He concluded saying:

The notion Mr. Clement puts forward that our handing out of flyers to interested parties in any way interfered with registration for the event is completely unfounded.
Ben Lewis

It is perplexing that the students were not offered the opportunity to explain their actions. Instead of extending that measure of courtesy, governmental staff chose to malign the behavior of the students. Far beyond any concerns I have of copyright law, this event further diminishes the integrity of the Federal Government of Canada.

A colleague of mine has often told me that such integrity exists only in the eyes of the naive; regrettably, he may be right. However, at this time I choose to believe otherwise and ask that you redress this matter.


Meera Nair, Ph.D.
Burnaby, BC

cc: Bill Siksay, Honourable Member of Parliament
cc: Canadian Federation of Students

Breaking Ranks

In Posts on August 23, 2009 at 7:23 pm

August is flying by, and the deadline for submission of opinions to the consultation process is fast approaching – September 13, 2009. (I’m still working on mine…) Both the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations and the Canadian Federation of Students have submit thoughtful and well articulated proposals.

Unfortunately, I must break ranks with my host community – the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada. With all due respect to the AUCC staff, I have concerns with some of their remarks, particularly this one:

Students and professors need to know that they are not breaking copyright law when they engage in teaching and learning activities that involve the use of publicly available works on the Internet. Copyright law should be amended to clarify that publicly available works on the Internet can be used for education and training purposes without infringing copyright.

Judging by the positions of the two student associations, students in Canada are already aware that accessing publicly available material from the Internet is a legitimate activity. There are a variety of ways that such behaviour could be considered legitimate, but, as always, fair dealing is the most viable. The access generally sought after in the name of learning, teaching and research is already on firm ground through fair dealing.

To request amendment to the law to engage in legitimate activity concedes infringement where none has happened. This is not merely peculiar, it is dangerous. If this amendment is tailored as a special exception solely for educational institutions, other Canadians who perform the same activity, but are not sheltered by an educational institution, will be at risk for a charge of infringement.

And to hide behind such an amendment means universities and colleges are choosing to exempt themselves from understanding and upholding their individual obligations under the terms of copyright law. The latitude that is permitted by fair dealing, precisely for the kind of work carried out by the students, teachers, researchers and librarians of these institutions, comes with the obligation to use fair dealing responsibly.

Fortunately, our two student bodies seem up to the task, as are Canadian librarians. (The CLA position paper, available from the August 10, 2009 submissions on the consultation website, makes for good reading.) It would be nice if universities and colleges would follow.