copyright law: a bullock and cart in a knowledge society

Lorinc, J. (2011) Universities to pay Access Copyright the same rates, for now University Affairs, March 7

Stacey, P. (2011) Access Copyright’s Royalty Demands Spark Interest in OERs, Musings on the EdTech Frontier, January 16.

Canada is in the process of developing a new copyright bill (C-32) that could have major implications for digital copying for educational purposes. This is a relatively complex topic, and I strongly recommend that you start by reading Paul Stacey’s blog, followed by the update from University Affairs. (It’s OK – you can download these articles for non-commercial purposes as they are covered by Creative Commons licenses).

However, I will add my two cents worth. The University Affairs article states:

The proposed bill includes measures that would facilitate distance and online learning by allowing lectures and associated copyright materials to be transmitted over digital networks.

But AUCC (Association of Universities and Colleges Canada) is concerned about provisions in the bill that require students and staff to destroy these digital lecture files after the course has ended. Institutions often reuse recordings of lessons in distance education. The provision means university staff would have to destroy recordings of lessons and then record and save the same lessons again, wasting resources. If a student copied recordings of a lesson from a course website, then the student would have to destroy digital copies after the course ended.

This seems to me to be a bizarre comment. (Not the only one in a debate that often seems to be taking place in another dimension that has little to do with current reality). Either the faculty member or, more likely, the university holds the rights to such lectures, so why would they not allow students to copy for personal use, and retain the copy? Copyright law does not usually stop rights holders from making exemptions to general provisions of the law so long as the exemption is restricted solely to its own rights. And anyway, I know of very few Canadian universities who use lecture capture for distance education, although recordings may be used as supplements.

We could spend a lot of time discussing the new Bill, but if there is an election in three weeks’ time, then the process will have to start all over again. Nevertheless, the current law is hopelessly out-of-date, but I’m afraid the new bill doesn’t show any understanding of the realities of digital learning, either, and however amended, it is likely to be ignored by the main educational stakeholders – the students. Any law that is unenforceable isn’t worth the paper – or the web site – it’s written on. I suspect the only satisfactory outcome for education would be a separate bill – or set of exclusions – for education, or a total move to open content, which is not likely to happen, for a variety of reasons, within the next 10 years.

In the meantime it’s going to be like watching a DVD – waiting for the FBI to break down the door and cart you off for five years because the rental company forgot to renew the license.


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