Bill C-32: Not-so-fair dealing
November 30 2010
On November 2, the Government of Canada tabled Bill C-32, An Act to Amend the Copyright Act, for second reading in the House of Commons. As an author and creator of copyrighted material, I support many provisions of the act, which are intended to fairly compensate people for their intellectual work. But as a university president, and more importantly an educator, there are measures in this new law that I simply cannot support. These are measures that will have a significant impact on how we teach, and may well put a severe strain on our resources for years to come. I'll highlight just a couple.
Bill C-32 proposes to give institutions access to free materials through a fair dealing exemption for educational uses while also protecting digital locks on content. So far so good. But the bill also contains a provision that effectively states that the application of a digital lock trumps those fair dealing rights. If a creator of an electronic device, file or recording puts a digital lock on it, forget about fair dealing. By breaking the lock, researchers or students will also be breaking the law, no matter their intent.
At Athabasca University, our faculty has for the past few years been investigating the use of smart phones to deliver course content. To do this, they often had to break digital locks placed on the devices by the manufacturer. They did this not for commercial gain, but to develop and test multiple educational applications in different environments. That research would come to a halt under C-32.
Perhaps an even more contentious provision of C-32 is the requirement for the destruction of borrowed documents. The bill allows researchers just five days to examine documents borrowed from libraries or databases, after which they must be destroyed.
In addition, another provision requires that educational institutions destroy lessons 30 days after students enrolled in the course have received their final course evaluations. AU has continuous enrolment and this rule would present significant challenges to the institution. Depending on how the law is interpreted, the university may have to destroy course materials at the end of each student's examination, making it reliant on open access materials.
These are but two of many reasons Athabasca University cannot support C-32 as it is now written. As a university, we've spent the last year or so highlighting our objections to the new act, and in partnership with other universities across the country we've been successful in getting some changes made. But more changes are needed to protect the traditional and long-standing rights of scholars and students.
We can only hope that, as the bill makes its way through the committee process, that MP's on all side of the political spectrum will take a close look at some of the more damaging aspects of the bill and make the appropriate changes. The future of post-secondary education and research in Canada hangs in the balance.