Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Jesse Hirsh on course pack copyright

Call for strong digital copyright and eventually someone will tell you that "you just don't understand the technology." That's one of the standard, head-patting dismissals free culture tries on artists. Poor dopey artists, if you only understood computers you'd see what a great tool they are for promoting your work, and you wouldn't be so scared of them.

CBC Radio One technology columnist Jesse Hirsh understands technology. Yesterday he was interviewed on Toronto's Metro Morning show about the issue of digital course packs and copyright. Hear the full interview at this link:

Course Pack Copyright

A highlight:

JESSE HIRSH: ...the digital platform allows the course packs go digital but not the regulatory regime that guarantees people will get paid. The Copyright Board of Canada has presented a tariff that would act as an interim. But over 30 Canadian Universities are saying: “Forget about it. We’re going to ignore your tariff. We’re going outside of the system”, partly as a pressure to sort of say: “Look we want something that benefits us more.” But it also is a kind of civil disobedience that will basically allow them to save costs by not paying for the content that they distribute….

MATT GALLOWAY: And for the students what does it mean for them?

JESSE HIRSH: If they see their universities and the main authority in their lives, professors, defy copyright law... So it’s really not a good situation, not for authors or publishers, not really for students and researchers. It’s why we need a system that’s legal that allows people to share knowledge openly but still allow the producers to get paid.

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Thanks to Barry Sookman for the tip, and the transcription.


Anonymous said...

My university has informed us (professors) that they will no longer process coursepacks, and that we must go through a third party (Canadian Scholars' Press) if we want them used for our courses.

Is this a semi-reasonable out-sourcing of a time-consuming process so that it will be taken care of properly? Or is it a way to circumvent payment? Don't know yet.

As an author and professor, I'm hoping for some sort of reasonable resolution that allows professors to efficiently give students access to a range of materials at a reasonable cost while still rewarding authors for their work.

John said...

Thanks for the comment.

My argument has always been that collective licensing is not the only solution; rather that it is part of a mix of solutions - a necessary part because it allows creators the choice to have their work publicly available (i.e. not locked into a closed subscription database) while still being compensated for use.

Darryl Moore said...

Hey John. Just got back for a beautiful week of canoe tripping in beautiful Missanabie Provincial Park. Hope you didn't miss me.:-)

Thanks for the link. It is interesting to read the comments on the page. I would certainly agree with most of the commentators that this time Jesse really did not speak from a position of knowledge.

One of his closing remarks is very telling of this. Regarding students he says: "If they see their University and the main authority in their lives, professors, defying copyright law, then they too are going to take that power into their own hands..."

To claim that anyone is actually looking to infringe copyright is pure hyperbole of the sort that I generally only expect from yourself. To say students will use this as justification for expanding their own infringement activities compounds the error.

It is a pity that Jesse did not take the time to respond to the criticisms in the comment page as you yourself did on the G&M site. But I'm glad to see that you at least were available to rush to his defence.

John said...

As always, Darryl, I will file your comments appropriately. Thanks.

Crockett said...


I think there will always be a segment of people who are 'looking for a way to 'infringe' just as there are some people on the lookout for any kind of nefarious activity.

Apart from that I think most people want to deal fairly understanding we live in a give and take world. The point of conflict is between any two people (or groups) on what quantifies fair.

AC & the education sector are one current example of discord. Purchasers of popular media (books, movies, etc.) and their creator/distributors another.

Such disagreements will continue unless all parties are willing to be flexible and inclusive of the other players desires and opinions.

Darryl said...

Crockett, indeed there will always be such people. However no matter how hard John tries to paint Universities with this brush, that will not make it so.

The first commentator on the cbc site sums it up quite well.

"Universities, primarily through libraries, currently do acquire and legally license enormous amounts of digital content for their users (ejournals, ebooks, databases, etc.) with publishers or third party vendors....This shift to direct content licensing with publishers has mostly bypassed copyright collectives. And well it should: the vast majority of material licensed by university libraries is not Canadian; rather the content is published by US and UK organizations that represent the majority of the academic market. The drastic increase in the per student cost contemplated by the proposed tariff (most universities held Access Copyright licenses in the past) runs completely counter to this new licensing paradigm. The tariff application is consequently seen by many in the academic sector as a last ditch effort by the copyright collective community to bolster revenue streams."

This is really a case if A-C trying to make themselves relevant at the expense of universities and students.

Being the guardians of a dying business model and controlling a market which at the very least is undergoing significant contraction, I think A-C can hardly afford to be neither flexible, inclusive, nor fair. They have to be utterly ruthless in their effort to redefine their market lest they suffer obscurity in the new digital era.

Similarly, Universities which increasingly acquire content from direct licensing have to work to reduce what they pay to A-C for the content they are using less of, so that they have the funds available to direct licence more online content.

There is no room for niceties in this struggle when there is so much at stake on both sides. This will not end nicely for somebody. That is for sure.

Gruesome said...

This is something I heard from a couple of professors(Acadia) when I was in Wolfville this summer.
They remarked that they just weren't making use of AC and use was shrinking. A fee increase especially one aimed as a fee per student would make the cost disproportional to the actual use.
Having said that, this was just two professors at one University.