Globe and Mail columnist Kate Taylor published an article on Friday titled Concordia University Caught on the Wrong Side of Copyright, which focused on a copyright violation at the Montreal-based university. While Taylor thinks that the Concordia incident demonstrates the problems with copyright and fair dealing (she writes “scofflaws in the universities have been egged on in Canada by the 2012 amendments to the Copyright Act that included a vaguely worded, broad-brush education exemption), a closer look suggests that the case actually says far more about the problems with collective licensing.
The issue at Concordia involved unauthorized scanning and online posting of several poetry books (I will have a follow-up post on the scanning issue). Once the publishers complained, the books were quickly removed. The director of the centre responsible for the posting acknowledged the error and indicated that he planned to purchase five copies of each book, which is equal to the number of graduate students who attend a weekly reading group. That would seem to be the end of the issue as no one suggests that the posting of the entire books were permitted or consistent with university policy, the issue was addressed immediately, and there was an attempt to compensate for the perceived losses.
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The recent Copyright Board ruling involving Access Copyright and copying at K-12 schools affirmed the fairness of educational copying practices across Canada. While writers groups continue to mislead with claims that the board’s decision springs from 2012 legislative reforms, the reality is that the current approach is grounded in several Supreme Court of Canada decisions. Writers groups and Access Copyright have repeatedly sought to downplay those decisions, yet it has been obvious to most observers that there is nothing unfair about copying up to 10% of a work for purposes such as research, private study, criticism, and education.
With repeated losses at the Copyright Board and the Supreme Court of Canada, copyright collectives have adopted another legal strategy: lawsuits and class actions against universities. The Access Copyright lawsuit against York University is ongoing, but the Quebec counterpart – an attempted class action filed by Copibec against Laval University in November 2014 – hit a legal wall last week. Copibec had been seeking millions in compensation after Laval shifted to an approach based on fair dealing and transactional licenses. According to a release from Copibec, the court refused to authorize the class action. Copibec says it plans to appeal, but the decision suggests that the legal alternatives for the copyright collectives is rapidly diminishing.
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A group of McGill students have created a new project – complete with informative comics and an FAQ – that explores alternatives to the traditional coursepack with an emphasis on open access and fair dealing.
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