(image of a key witness selling used cars to the C-32 Committee courtesy the Parliamentary website)
As the special Parliamentary committee on copyright reform works its way through the list of witnesses commenting on Bill C-32, we continue to hear a lot of determined advocacy from the free culture crowd about the educational fair dealing category.
As I've noted elsewhere (here, here, here, here, here, here... aaand here) most of this lobbying comes from organized educational interests with an eye on budget savings. The savings, of course, will come at the expense of professional Canadian artists and other creators who currently enjoy straightforward protection of their work and a licensing structure that makes classroom use seamless and trouble free (for a reasonable price).
Anyone who doubts that creators will lose revenue with this change should listen to the testimony of free culture's self-appointed Canadian guru, Dr. Michael Geist who, when asked a straight yes or no question, was forced to admit to the Parliamentary committee that creators would foot the bill for education. You can see that testimony online at this link, (skip ahead to around the 24:30 mark to see Dr. Geist challenged on the point of lost revenues under educational fair dealing). He tries to equivocate, but ultimately can't. You will also see the other two witnesses, both professional IP lawyers (Giuseppina D'Agostino and Barry Sookman), making unequivocal statements about creators losing revenue.
Interestingly, since that testimony, Dr. Geist has been all about "compromise" in copyright reform and especially on the topic of educational fair dealing. Of course, a Geistian compromise on educational fair dealing STILL involves broad new freedoms for those very organized educational interests, and STILL involves considerable lost revenues for creators. Don't try to find those admissions in the good doctor's latest compromise posting. It seems when he's not facing a panel of demanding public officials, Geist keeps his cards close to his chest.
Tell you what, we'll ignore all your objections and just go ahead with the deal as I originally described it.
Frankly, I've been offered better compromises on a used car lot.
What gets ignored in much of this educational sector lobbying are the real world uses of created content, real world uses that could all quite easily be covered by an affordable licence.
The other day, I received a note from the Playwright's Guild of Canada (real professional creators making real content used in real educational settings). In it, they outlined their own objections to a new educational exception. The note contained this real world story:
Over the holidays I ran into a friend who teaches at a local university. He is the author of a number of excellent textbooks on subjects related to democracy and social justice. We began to talk about Bill C-32, specifically about the extension of “fair dealing” to “education” – likely to provide a huge “educational” exemption from copyright. I felt depressed that so many educational institutions support this flawed legislation. It’s a Bill that, among its many flaws, will very likely destroy the copyright collectives which administer the right to use our work in schools.
Our conversation led my friend to tell me a story about his reality as a teacher. Early in the fall semester he asked one of his classes how many of his students had purchased the course textbook. Only three of the 150 students in the class put up their hands. So he asked another question, “How many students have access to the text from other sources?” Most of the students raised their hands. Someone had been good-hearted enough to scan the entire book and put it up online. I asked him what he did. He shrugged and told me he asked them if they were paying to download the files. They said, “No, the download was free.” No one was profiting from the theft but nevertheless a serious theft had occurred. He felt powerless to do much about it.
Three textbooks were sold, 147 stolen and a professor who writes textbooks on civic responsibility feels powerless to do anything about it, quite depressing.
I hear stories like this all the time. In fact, I am married to a university professor who shares my horror at the real world copyright infringement she witnesses as a matter of course in her job. The free culture crowd does not speak for that civics professor, and neither does it speak for my wife and the vast majority of her colleagues with whom she's discussed this issue. REAL educators want the creators of their educational materials fairly treated under the law and by their educational institutions.
Is it all about the money? Well, no, it's about the fact that the cold comfort on copyright reform, and the bafflegab about fair dealing is actually coming from the places we normally trust to seek truth and model ethical behaviour. The slick used car compromise to Canadian creators is being offered in the guise of scholarship.
It's enough to make one head for a church -- where one might just find some real world discussion about real world copyright concerns:
Why is it so important for churches and church leaders to adhere to the Canadian Copyright Law? Aside from protecting the rights of the artist, it becomes an issue of hypocrisy. If we wish to speak ethically about the world then we simply must comply with the laws and not circumvent them when it becomes burdensome.
...The longer that the church compromises copyright law the more damage is done to our reputation. We begin to lose our credibility to speak ethically to a society, about how we ought to be as a people, a culture and civilization.
-- Marty Levesque, from the Rogue Preacher Blog
UPDATE: For the benefit of the usual deniers in my comment section, here's another story from that PGC note on educational fair dealing:
Yesterday my niece, who’s in first year drama at another university, dropped by to talk to me about one of her new courses, Script Analysis. She showed me the list of books she’s having to buy, starting with Sophocles and ending with Judith Thompson. Most of the plays were all in the public domain and available very inexpensively. The few contemporary works were selling for less than $15 each. At the bottom of the list there was a note. I quote, “Instead of creating a course pack for the course (in the interest of saving you money and a great deal of paper), supplementary readings for it will be scanned electronically and made available via the Internet.”