With the school year set to resume in just over a week, the 61 reforms series turns to the education concerns associated with Bill C-61. Statistics Canada confirmed last fall that the Internet is changing the face of Canadian education by altering the ways students conduct their research or participate in distance learning. This is particularly true for students from rural or small-town communities, who increasingly depend on the Internet for electronic distance learning. Many in the education community have reacted with alarm at C-61 including the Canadian Association of University Teachers, the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, and the Canadian Federation of Students. Moreover, University executives are beginning to speak out as well – Athabasca University Vice-President of Research Rory McGreal recently published an op-ed that warned that "the proposed new Bill C-61 will have profound negative effects on researchers and educators as well as the general public."
A particular sore point is the bill's treatment of "lessons." While the provisions purport to provide the education community with new rights to faciliate distance learning, these provisions are stunningly arcane and practically worthless.
To begin with, it isn't entirely clear what a "lesson" is – the bill features a circular definition that states at Section 30.01(1) that a lesson means:
a lesson, test or examination, or part of one, in which, or during the course of which, an act is done in respect of a work or other subject-matter by an educational institution or a person acting under its authority that would otherwise be an infringement of copyright but is permitted under any of sections 29.4 to 29.6 and subsection 29.7(3).
Sections 29.4 to 29.6 are the special education exemptions already in the Copyright Act. They include the right to use overhead machines, dry-erase boards, copy news programs, and an assortment of other limited activities (the broader fair dealing provision is far better for the research and private study side of education). Bill C-61 confirms that these rights now extend to the distance learning since
a student who is enrolled in a course of which the lesson forms a part is deemed to be a person on the premises
of the educational institution when the student participates in or receives the lesson by means of communication by telecommunications under paragraph 3(a).
Yet the education community relies on more than just the education exemptions. The other exemptions – Section 29 (fair dealing for research or private study), 29.1 (fair dealing for criticism or review), and 29.2 (fair dealing for news reporting) are an essential part of the Act and the everyday educational activities. If the goal is to extend the current exceptions to students outside the traditional classroom, the bill should grant educators the right to do so for all the exemptions found in the Copyright Act.