New copyright bill may have negative impact

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On Thursday, Sept. 29, Bill C-11 was introduced in the House of Commons, marking the fourth attempt to amend copyright legislation by the Government of Canada. The Copyright Modernization Act seeks to bring copyright law in line with technology, an important task given the vast amount of material available online.

Executive director of Campus Stores Canada, Wayne Amundson believes, however, that it is “the exact same legislation as the last attempt” and will face many of the same challenges as its predecessor, C-32 of June 2010.

Most specifically, he felt that its provisions will have a negative impact on Canadian students, who acquire much of their academic material online.

The Bill claims to offer absolute protection of copyrighted material through “digital locks,” while simultaneously offering a “fair dealing exemption” on material acquired for non-infringing purposes.

For Amundson, it’s the unison of these two provisions that act as a barrier to progress.

“I think that the absolute protection for digital locks undermine some of the positive steps in the proposed legislation; in particular, the fair dealings exemption for education,” he said. “This is an important academic right, and those in an academic institution should be able to use what they need without constant worry of violating copyright laws. However, the digital locks have the potential to remove the fair dealing provision altogether.”

“Many fail to address that there is a direct impact on textbook prices as a result of these digital locks,” he added.

Under these locks certain materials may be inaccessible, as they will fall under different jurisdictions, blurring the distinction between what is or is not being used for infringement.

Digital locks are not the only aspect that could pose a negative effect on access to materials for students. Brian Henderson, director of WLU Press, noted that the education exemption itself can be problematic for the publishers and creators of materials used in classrooms.

“There are millions and millions of pages that are copied and used for educational purposes every year in the country,” he said. “What happens is there would be no remuneration back to the rights holder.”

Henderson added that the exemption would prevent further publications if writers and creators have no financial incentive to support their efforts when the main market— educational institutions— are exempt from copyright policies or tariffs. “It would impoverish the already narrow margin world of educational and scholarly publishing whose value added transforms raw material into something students can actually make use of,” he explained.

The lack of specificity in the education exemption according to Henderson is due to the failure of finding common ground among all the stakeholders, from representatives of the education sector to publishing and writing associations. “It’s a question of trying to get the sides to actually talk,” he said.

Among the creators, distributors and users of copyright materials, support for Bill C-11 doesn’t appear to be mounting.

Reiterating the problems with the provisions against breaking digital locks, Amundson concluded, “The general view within the Campus Store community, is that from a consumer point of view, specifically students, the digital lock provision goes too far. I think that maybe, the act would be better received if these were not included.”

Looking ahead with similar concerns about the bill’s effect on academic publishing, Henderson said, “Somebody is going to be able to fund scholarship and its development and its publication. If we can’t collect any compensation by the sale of it then it’s either not going to happen or it’s going to have to be funded elsewhere.”

“Looking for a business model here is going to be extremely interesting,” he added.

Changes have yet to be made, as debate of Bill C-11 continues in the House of Commons.


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