The proponents of free culture are spending the summer nudging Canada's post-secondary institutions to "opt-out" of an interim Copyright Board tariff designed to extend previous Access Copyright agreements with universities and colleges while a new price structure for new uses and greater digital delivery is worked out at the negotiating table.
So far, free culture cheerleaders Howard Knopf and Michael Geist have compiled a list of about 26 schools (out of roughly 2000 in Canada) who have pre-empted negotiation and decided to see if they can manage to provide a high-quality Canadian education without collective licensing for the materials Access Copyright represents (most publicly available materials by Canada's professional writers, publishers and visual artists) leaning instead on their own definition of fair dealing and somewhat mysterious substitute materials, much of which will be sourced in the United States.
In past blog postings, I've pointed to declarations by opting out universities such as Toronto's York University and the University of Saskatchewan suggesting these schools intend to actively restrict the choice of materials used in the classroom by their professors and students. I continue to wonder how students and teacher associations can stand for this kind of interference with academic freedom, but so far not a peep from either about these new restrictions.
Someone's starting to take notice, though. In the last week, both CBC.ca and MetroNews have published reports about restrictions on academic freedom, and the ongoing uncertainty over cost in the decision by the University of Calgary to refuse the Copyright Board's tariff terms.
This quote from the Metronews article spells out the dilemma in which U of C students (and those of 25 or so other schools) will find themselves:
U of C business student Justin Fisher was concerned after learning about the new copyright restrictions.
“When you are writing a paper, you want to find as many resources and references as possible,” he said.
And very telling indeed, for those who have long followed the free-culture attack on collective licensing in Canada, is this little slip of the tongue from U of C Chief Librarian Tom Hickerson in the CBC.ca story:
"...a rumoured change coming to federal copyright legislation could ease the growing burden on universities."
What rumoured change to copyright legislation is going to make life without an Access Copyright license or tariff easier for universities?
Could Hickerson be referring to an expansion of fair dealing to cover educational uses? That doesn't seem possible because when Canadian writers and publishers have publicly worried that just such an expansion would destroy fair collective licensing in Canada, we've been told by educators and free-culture cheerleaders that nothing could be further from the truth.
Hickerson's assertion in the CBC story suggests educational institutions are just waiting for new legislation so they can start claiming all educational uses as fair dealing, and that the worries of Canada's cultural creators are well-grounded indeed.