Thursday, March 13, 2014

learning how to NOT get along

People often ask me why I get involved in confrontational tactics around copyright. Why do I go to meetings to which I'm not invited? Why do I organize light-hearted, yet serious protests on very cold campuses? Why don't I just sit down with educators and talk about this stuff? Well, here's an answer to those questions.

I do talk to students, teachers and librarians all the time about my own personal copyright concerns, and the copyright concerns of my constituency. In the past year, I've given many talks and presentations on the subject in classrooms, and I have more presentations scheduled soon. Often when I'm talking to these folks we disagree on small points. Mostly, we agree on the main points: 

  • Students need affordable materials (and affordable education in general); 
  • teachers need ease of access; 
  • library professionals need flexibility of use within a constrained budget; 
  • writers and publishers need to be paid fairly for their work and property. 

In my experience, everyone agrees with these starting points, and everyone is willing to keep talking once those points are established. Everyone, that is, except the folks who actually make the ultimate decisions about copying in schools and on campuses.

Students, teachers, writers and library workers can chat all we want about this stuff, but if the budget- and policy-makers refuse to even come to the table for a talk, there's little to no point in the rest of us reaching a consensus position.

As a member of the Canadian Copyright Institute (CCI), The Writers' Union of Canada (TWUC) recently participated in the publication of A Fair and Better Way Forward. The CCI is a decades old cooperative group representing, essentially, the entire Canadian writing and publishing sector on matters of copyright. TWUC has loaded A Fair and Better Way Forward on its website, along with the CCI's recent public release.

A Fair and Better Way Forward is a position paper - a fair-minded analysis of recent changes to the Copyright Act. It contains, I believe, all of the consensus starting points I mentioned. It also suggests that certain overly broad interpretations of copyright changes have led to a damaging expansion of industrial-scale copying, without payment, in schools and on campuses across the country, and that such uncompensated use is unsustainable.

At the end of 2013, CCI sent their paper to provincial Ministries of Education, the heads of all post-secondary administrations and all relevant educational organizations in Canada, with an invitation to meet and discuss the issues. To date, no organization or administration has agreed to talk. 

The invitation remains open. 

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