Meera Nair

Posts Tagged ‘James Woodburn Dean’

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.