On Campus

Education groups divided over copyright legislation

Concerns arise over whether the education exception is neutered by digital locks

Proposed amendments to Canada’s arcane Copyright Act has provoked sharp disagreement within the education sector.

Introduced last Wednesday by Industry Minister Tony Clement and Heritage Minister James Moore, the amendments expand rules governing “fair use,” making several exceptions for education.

Under the proposed legislation, the use of copyrighted material in the classroom would be permitted over the internet, allowing students to legally view material during and after class, as well as from remote locations. To illustrate the change, the government has used the example of music students, those in the classroom as well as those studying remotely, to perform protected songs together, if it forms part of a lesson.

Students would also be permitted to print one copy of material delivered electronically by teachers. Other changes include a provision delinking material from “specific technologies” so that protected material that already include exceptions for education may be copied to a variety of formats before being presented to students.

One of the biggest proposed amendments involves the use of recorded broadcasts of current affairs programs, which will no longer have to be paid for. Documentaries, however, are not included in this provision. Another important amendment is permission for librarians to digitize copyrighted material for the purposes of inter-library loans.

The Copyright Act was last updated in 1997 before the advent of many media platforms such as MP3 players. The new legislation proposes to bring the law in line with common activities such as transferring media from one platform to another for personal use.

The legislation also aims to provide creators with new ways to protect their intellectual property. Most controversially, the government will protect the use of technological protection measures, or digital locks. It would become illegal for the locks to be circumvented, even in cases where copying material was permitted by other provisions in the bill.

The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada has given the proposed legislation cautious praise. AUCC president Paul Davidson noted that the bill contains many changes that the university sector suggested during government consultations last summer. He said that the AUCC is “very pleased that the bill amends the fair dealing provision to include the purpose of education.” However, the AUCC has expressed concern regarding the “overly strict prohibition against circumventing the technical measures.”

Similarly, Tina Robichaud, chair of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) said the changes will be “immensely beneficial for students, teachers and institutions.”

Others have found it nearly impossible to applaud expansions to fair use given the protection provided for digital locks. “By imposing a blanket provision against all circumvention, the government will lock down a vast amount of digital material, effectively preventing its use for research, education and innovation, and curtailing the user rights of Canadians,” said David Robinson of the Canadian Association of University Teachers.

The Canadian Federation of Students agrees. “The government has indicated a willingness to compromise. Step one is listening to Canadians and abandoning blanket protections for digital locks,” said national chairperson David Molenhuis.

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