Heading back to school? Hope you’ve memorized the Copyright Act

John Degen Special to the News It's that time of year again. Canada's university students are hitting the back-to-school sales for paper, pens, binders and gigabytes of digital storage media.

John Degen

Special to the News

It’s that time of year again. Canada’s university students are hitting the back-to-school sales for paper, pens, binders and gigabytes of digital storage media. This year, they should also be buying their own copy of Canada’s Copyright Act – because they’re going to need it.

Over the summer, some prominent universities quietly decided to forgo blanket copyright clearance through Access Copyright for the coming year’s academic materials, a radical policy change that leaves students and their professors in need of expert guidance.

Suddenly, there’s a legal minefield on campus. Decisions about what to teach and how to deal with copyright-protected materials in the classroom now require legal forethought and forceful justification by professors – and even then a content request may be denied by the campus copyright police.

For decades, Canada has enjoyed a co-operative system where professors and students use vast amounts of photocopied material in the classroom, while artists and publishers are compensated through collective licensing.

Access Copyright is a collective, a union of individual writers, visual artists and publishers who have pooled their otherwise limited resources to create a one-stop shop for Canadian content licensing. Through collective licensing, schools, artists and publishers have done business around copyright with mutual respect.

Not so any more.

The traditional photocopied coursepack has gone online, and some schools strongly resist paying for these supposedly new classroom uses. The administration that used to pay for a few thousand course packs of Canadian content now wishes to pay for none. After all, we’re told, digital copies aren’t the same as physical copies. Multiply those thousands of coursepacks by all the universities in the country. Now multiply that number by zero. You see the cost-saving scope of this gambit.

At the same time, many universities are expanding their use of corporately owned, password-protected, content databases. Access Copyright is not a closed database of limited content, and thank goodness it’s not. The Access Copyright repertoire of content is the vast and ever-expanding pool of unlocked, publicly available Canadian creativity – the stuff of our greatest writers and visual artists, our magazines, newspapers and books.

As a Canadian writer, I intentionally don’t lock my work into a closed, corporate subscription service because I want it to be freely available for use by any Canadian teacher or student. Of course, when I say freely available, I mean unlocked, not unpaid. If an artist’s work is valuable enough to teach, it’s valuable enough to be paid for. Artists have mortgages, too.

Access Copyright has prepared itself for the reality of digital delivery for years. It studied how it’s done and how it’s licensed around the world, then it approached Canada’s postsecondary community with a proposal for new licences that would bring us all fully and fairly into the digital age. The price for these new licences was designed to reflect assumed new and increased uses. The universities have refused to negotiate.

To keep ongoing uses legal, the Copyright Board of Canada imposed an interim tariff, but these 30 or so schools say they’ll operate outside the tariff. They simply won’t use any Access Copyright material in ways covered by the tariff. In other words, they’ll ban certain uses of certain Canadian works from campus.

This is much more than just a slap in the face for Canadian artists. It represents an unprecedented attack on academic freedom. Would the very well-paid leaders of these universities ever have allowed such heavy-handed manipulation of their own university educations? If this were any of the radicalized decades of the past century, Canadian universities would be in for a season of sit-ins and picket lines, with students and teachers demanding unfettered access to Canadian content.

But in the digital-download new millennium, when so much of our behaviour is controlled by technology, will anyone even notice what’s missing?

John Degen is a poet, novelist and freelance journalist. His novel, The Uninvited Guest, was shortlisted for the Amazon.ca First Novel Award in 2007. This column was written for Access Copyright.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Chloe Sergerie, who was fined $500 under the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> on Jan. 12, says she made the safest choice available to her when she entered the territory. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Woman fined $500 under CEMA says she made ‘safest decision’ available

Filling out a declaration at the airport was contrary to self-isolation, says accused

The Yukon Department of Education building in Whitehorse on Dec. 22, 2020. Advocates are calling on the Department of Education to reverse their redefinition of Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) that led to 138 students losing the program this year. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
Advocates call redefinition of IEPs “hugely concerning,” call for reversal

At least 138 students were moved off the learning plans this year

Medical lab technologist Angela Jantz receives her first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the Whitehorse hospital on Jan. 13. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Online booking system for Moderna vaccine opens as mobile teams prepare to visit communities

“The goal is to protect everyone and stop the spread of COVID-19”

adsf
WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for Jan. 15, 2021

The Fish Lake area viewed from the top of Haeckel Hill on Sept. 11, 2018. The Yukon government and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced they are in the beginning stages of a local area planning process for the area. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Local area planning for Fish Lake announced

The Government of Yukon and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced in… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Fire damage, photographed on Jan. 11, to a downtown apartment building which occurred late in the evening on Jan. 8. Zander Firth, 20, from Inuvik, was charged with the arson and is facing several other charges following his Jan. 12 court appearance. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
More charges for arson suspect

The Inuvik man charged in relation to the fire at Ryder Apartments… Continue reading

The grace period for the new Yukon lobbyist registry has come to an end and those who seek to influence politicians will now need to report their efforts to a public database. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Grace period for new lobbyist registry ends

So far nine lobbyists have registered their activities with politicians in the territory

The Government of Yukon Main Administration Building in Whitehorse on Aug. 21, 2020. Some Yukon tourism and culture non-profit organizations may be eligible to receive up to $20,000 to help recover from losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Details released on relief funding for tourism and culture non-profits

Some Yukon tourism and culture non-profit organizations may be eligible to receive… Continue reading

Mayo-Tatchun MLA Don Hutton won’t be runing for re-election. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Mayo-Tatchun MLA won’t run for re-election

Liberal MLA Don Hutton won’t be running for re-election. A former wildland… Continue reading

Large quantities of a substance believed to be cocaine, a large amount of cash, several cells phones and a vehicle were all seized after RCMP searched a Whistle Bend home on Jan. 6. (Photo courtesy RCMP)
Seven arrested after drug trafficking search

RCMP seized drugs, money from Whistle Bend residence on Jan. 6

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Most Read