Wednesday, June 25, 2008

underground films

The Film Studies Association of Canada has released a long statement critical of C-61 in general, and specifically the limitations placed on an educational exception within it. Not surprisingly, much of the criticism centres on the digital lock protections sworn enemies of the bill have been very quick to condemn.

I think we all want to sympathize with our nation's educators. I know I just spent a good part of my morning thanking the kindergarten teachers at my kids' school for all their hard work this past year. But, it is hard for me to have sympathy for this part of the FSAC statement:

... because copyright law in Canada does not allow for educational fair use, [film production and collection companies] sell blanket site licenses to Canadian universities, basically making money through a provision in the law. This creates an unnecessary financial expense for universities. It is also a time waster for A-V libraries, which have to compile reports on films screened in classes for the two companies. Finally, this vestige of the pre-video era has driven many educators ‘underground,’ as instructors show DVDs or clips from DVDs that they own for educational purposes but do not declare the screening. New copyright legislation should acknowledge and reflect current conditions, practices and educational needs, and provide educators and scholars with less fettered access to copyrighted material, recognizing the right to screen legitimately procured material within educational contexts without having to pay additional fees for each use.

It seems to me FSAC is asking for consideration of all the difficulties film studies programs must go through to show the very films that are the lifeblood of their courses, while disregarding the economic realities of the companies whose work they depend on, and in fact the financial realities of their very institutions.

Private copies of films have always been sold with private viewing restriction agreements attached, have they not? It has always been necessary, has it not, to obtain an additional license for any sort of extended public viewing? And is the rationale behind this practice particularly unsound? Copyright adheres to the text of the film, and these educators are certainly familiar with the difference between the text and the media it comes on. They're not teaching DVD studies, are they?

Film studies courses in Canada are part of a paid educational system that counts its budget in the billions. While I think we would all love it if our kids, and their parents, could attend university for free, the reality is ever increasing student debt loads. Everyone involved in delivering education to Canada's students is paid fairly for their work, product or service. Why is it suddenly wrong that the film companies providing film curriculum materials are also fairly paid? Each curriculum showing of a film is a paid showing. That is the reason for educational licenses for the use of copyright protected material-- and not just for films.

What exactly constitutes an unnecessary financial expense for universities? According to the FSAC statement, any expense that can either be wished away by importing US style fair use, or can simply be avoided by going underground and ignoring the license requirements. Oh, also expenses of inconvenience, like the necessity to keep good records. FSAC's admission and almost tacit approval of prof's breaking license agreements is a sad -- very sad -- statement about the commitment of its members to their subject matter. Films are incredibly expensive to produce, and the many artists involved are some of the great interpreters of our culture, the majority of whom are not from Hollywood.

It's too bad, because the statement makes some good points about difficulties in fair dealing for educators -- film quoting for instance - that could open up a truly fruitful dialogue about the digital lock protections, and potential amendments to C-61 for licensed educational use. But by taking the standard educational licensing is bad for education line, I think they do their position, and Canada's artists, a terrible disservice.

7 comments:

John McFetridge said...

Universities still have movie courses?

Too bad no one's making movies worth studying anymore...

John said...

McF,

You think you'll win the Grampa Simpson curmudgeon award with that comment, but I've got a lot more "kids these days" in my armory.

Why, back in my day...

John McFetridge said...

Out-Grampa Simpson, me will you?

This could be the longest comment trail yet....

Anonymous said...

Lets restrict teachers from doing their jobs. Nicely done, bill C-61! Is our childrens learning? Who cares! john degan hates the idea of an educated populace.

pinkmartini said...

I don't think John Degen's post argues toward restricting teachers or ensuring that children don't learn. It seems to me he's suggesting that educational institutions should take licensing agreements seriously. As a teacher, I am concerned about the ways in which educational budgets continue to shrink; public support for education (and I'm talking about the US here) has decreased dramatically over the last several years. But the fact that our libraries can't afford to renew journal subscriptions, and the fact of rising student debt to pay for college, is not really a reason to quarrel with licensing agreements; it's a symptom of a much larger problem. "Working around" licensing agreements seems a bit like robbing Peter to pay Paul. Shouldn't educational institutions quarrel with the lack of public support for their work?

John said...

Thanks pinkmartini. An educator on my blog calling for respect for licensing agreements? It's like you're an audience plant or something.

Interestingly, except for a few high-profile exceptions, most educators I know hold your view that the problem is not the perfectly reasonable legal necessity to pay license fees, but the overall negative pressure on educational budgets. It's organizations like the Council of Ministers of Education who attempt to organize support for cutting off license payments. Why? Well, Ministers of Education set the budgets, don't they? I wish organizations like FSAC would direct their frustration where it truly belongs.

I have never understood the rationale -- well, it's becoming increasingly difficult to deliver education under these economic conditions, so let's just stop paying one of our suppliers. That'll solve all our problems.

And if the copyright owners don't like it, we'll demonize them and their collectives to the general public. How dare these greedy suppliers expect payment? Their invoices are standing between children and learning. Artists hate children!

John McFetridge said...

It would be great if our schools didn't have to pay for heat or electricity or computers or internet connections - do they all hate the idea of an educated populace?