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New copyright bill affects universities and students

Some education groups oppose and others cautiously support legislation to modernize Canada’s copyright law


More than a decade after copyright reform was addressed by the Canadian government, the issue has returned to Parliament for debate in the form of Bill C-61. The legislation is an attempt to modernize copyright law in the Internet age, action that Canada has not yet taken.

Many mainstream commentators voiced opposition to the reforms to Canada’s Copyright Act, focusing on how it affects the public’s ability to download movies and music. Near-hyperbolic opposition to the bill – Liberal MP Scott Brison accused the government of introducing copyright laws expected in a police state – made waves in the media.

But reaction from the business community and entertainment industry was mixed, while reaction from the education community was largely left off the front pages.

Nonetheless, there are important implications for universities and colleges in C-61. The government proposed amendments to the Copyright Act that would allow professors to conduct Internet-based lessons and students to print out a single copy of copyrighted course materials. The lessons would have to be destroyed at the end of the course, and the onus would be on schools to prevent students from printing multiple copies.

Teachers would also be able to distribute web materials to students for educational purposes, unless these were restricted by a digital lock. Librarians would be able to “digitize” print material for distribution to library users; however, users wouldn’t be able to print more than a single copy of the material.

The bill also clarifies that Internet service providers – this includes universities – would continue to be exempt from copyright liability when they provide Internet access, cache materials for network efficiency or host websites for subscribers.

As soon as Industry Minister Jim Prentice tabled the bill in the House of Commons, some prominent postsecondary groups came out against the legislation. The Canadian Federation of Students, Canadian Alliance of Student Associations and Canadian Association of University Teachers criticized the bill for restricting educators’ and students’ access to web materials.

Also opposed to nearly every element of the bill is University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist, who received much of the credit for delaying the bill’s introduction last December and whose Facebook group named “Fair Copyright for Canada” is over 85,000-strong and growing.

But opposition to the bill isn’t universal in the education community. The Council of Ministers of Education Canada, Canadian Teachers Federation, Canadian Association of Research Libraries and Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada said the bill deserved closer study or expressed support for elements of the bill, with some caveats.

Mark Haslett, university librarian at the University of Waterloo and chair of CARL’s copyright committee, stressed the importance of a close examination of every element of C-61. He said the organization will not be ready to pass judgment on the bill until it has considered the potential ramifications of every clause on research libraries and researchers.

Mr. Haslett said that CARL’s primary concern is “moving the copyright regime into the digital age.” Librarians and researchers are, for example, looking to make their collections electronic as a means of preservation and want to make sure copyright reform does not restrict that.

Comments by AUCC President Claire Morris struck a similar chord. “Professors and students at Canadian universities are both creators and users of copyright works, so Canadian universities recognize the importance of balance between the desire of creators to receive fair remuneration for the use of their works and the public interest in being able to use information for purposes such as research and education,” said Ms. Morris.

She commended certain aspects of C-61 while also offering criticism. AUCC supports the clause that would permit the educational use of publicly available Internet materials and the approach to clarify rules regarding copyright liability for Internet service providers, including universities.

But, like CARL, AUCC wants to study the bill and said it will suggest at least two major amendments to the House of Commons Industry committee: first, to relax restrictions on circumventing technological locks and second, to ensure protection of Canadians, including educators, who believe their copying of materials is permitted under fair dealing.

Meanwhile, University of Toronto public policy expert Nelson Wiseman noted that copyright is very technical and not an issue to which most Canadians can relate. While those in the know can talk about the positive and negative aspects of C-61 at length, most voters know and care little about the legislation. “During an election, no one is going to show up on my doorstep and talk about copyright,” said Dr. Wiseman.

All the commenting may be academic since this copyright bill – like some of its predecessors – may not make it very far through Parliament before an election intervenes and kills it, observers say.

“I think there are scenarios that will see it pass but if I were to put odds on it, I would say that the odds are against it before the election,” said lawyer Mark Hayes, a partner with the intellectual property group of the Toronto office of Blake, Cassels and Graydon, in an interview with the online magazine Lexpert.

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