Since the government introduced Bill C-32 (An Act to Amend the Copyright Act), much attention has been paid to the anti-circumvention protections offered to technical protection measures (TPM). TPMs affect both writers and readers of digital literary content, which is why those two parts of my own personality have already had a long discussion about them (here, here and here).
But what of the other new provisions in the proposed Bill C-32? One new detail in the bill that has been getting a little less attention from commentators, both official and self-appointed, is the new educational exception, the guiding principle of which, I believe, is stated in the following passage:
29.4 (1) It is not an infringement of copyright for an educational institution or a person acting under its authority for the purposes of education or training on its premises to reproduce a work, or do any other necessary act, in order to display it.
There follows, in C-32, a number of new paragraphs detailing many and various controls on this educational exception, including the possibility of a rightsholder explicitly restricting educational use through a notice or a TPM. It's complicated, but there is a disturbing new bottom line for creators... many of whom are students as well.
My writer and reader hash it out a bit:
Reader - Good news -- I'm going back to school to finally get that PhD. I've been putting it off forever because of the rapidly increasing costs associated with education; but it looks now like at least one of those costs will be going down.
Writer - That DOES sound like good news. Which cost is going down? Parking on campus?
Reader - No, not parking.
Writer - Oh, is it the service fees for the library and athletics and stuff?
Reader - Uh, no, those costs are still there.
Writer - Don't tell me it's tuition. Are they dropping tuition fees?
Reader - Actually, I think tuition might be going up.
Writer - Well, I'm guessing the professors still want to be paid...
Reader - Yeah, I think they have a pretty strong union making sure of that. No, it's the materials... educational material costs are about to go way down.
Writer -... wow, you mean universities are now going to subsidize the costs of textbooks and stuff for you? That would be amazing because you can rack up a big bill on textbooks.
Reader - Actually, there's no need to subsidize the materials -- the government is going to make sure everything on the Internet can be used for free, and it even looks like universities can photocopy stuff without infringing copyright now.
Writer - So, wait, you mean if a professor wanted to teach my book, The Uninvited Guest (still in print and for sale through my publisher at good independent bookstores and through online services) to a couple hundred students, those students would not have to buy my book?
Reader - Nope, the school could buy one copy, and either photocopy or scan it and then make it available to students as "educational material." Just think, over a decade or so thousands of university and even high school students would save twenty bucks each, and would still be able to read your book. It's a win/win. Cheaper education for me, larger readership for you.
Writer - One small problem.
Reader - What's that now?
Writer - If I can't make money from my writing, you can't go back to school... no matter how much you are saving on materials.
Reader - But we've just shown how this new system will increase your readership by thousands.
Writer - Thousands of people who are not paying to own my book. That's not a very sustainable business model from my perspective.
Reader - I see your point, but you know this change in the copyright law is really meant to address the difficulty educators have in accessing works for their students.
Writer - Well, I can't speak for others, but there's nothing inaccessible about my writing. As I mentioned above, I'm still in print, and there are numerous ways to legally purchase my work.
Reader - True enough -- but, what if a prof doesn't need her students to read your whole book? What if she just wants them to read a couple pages, as a sample of fine Canadian fiction? In the past, that prof could never be sure how much she could legally use, and whether or not it was okay to photocopy it.
Writer - Actually, that's not strictly accurate. Professors and teachers have been able to work in complete confidence with regards to photocopied material for a couple of decades or more, thanks to the educational licensing efforts of Access Copyright.
Reader - Access who?
Writer - Access Copyright, the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency. A university just talks it over with AC, they come to an agreement on the amount of photocopying being done at the university, and pay for an appropriately-sized licence. Once they do that, professors and students are free to photocopy whatever they need. AC licences even cover those photocopied coursepacks professors love so much.
Reader - So, the universities pay money to Access Copyright when they photocopy your book? How does that help you?
Writer - It helps me because I AM Access Copyright. AC is a collective society made up of artists and publishers. The money collected through usage licensing is distributed fairly to the AC membership. You see, there is a completely fair, accessible and seamless process in place for educational use of copies.
Why would we change our copyright law now and destroy that process?
Reader - Well, like I said, it will make education cheaper.
Writer - I don't know, Reader, at a potential loss of thousands of sales, this great new education you're getting is looking pretty expensive to me. Are there any plans to change the laws around tuition fees and professor salaries as well?
Reader - Hmmmm, C-32 makes no mention of those things.
Writer - I've got an idea. Since we're just going to be using copies in education from now on, how about we copy the lesson plans from one year and just repeat them every year from now on? Better yet, let's get the profs to deliver one lecture, videotape it, put it up on YouTube, and just be done with the whole expectation that students attend classes.
Reader - Won't that, sort of, cheapen the whole concept of higher education.
Writer - Isn't cheapening what we're going for here?
UPDATE: The Toronto Star has published a related op-ed discussing C-32's educational exceptions.