A coincidental juxtaposition of two stories in my in-box this morning has perhaps shed some light on the campaign by certain prominent educational spokespeople to have a broad and vaguely worded exception included in the copyright modernization bill currently before Parliament.
Firstly, the Innovation Law Blog out of the University of Toronto reports on a talk given to U of T's Technology and Intellectual Property (TIP) Group by Roanie Levy. Levy is General Counsel and Director of Policy and External Affairs for Access Copyright, a collective representing writers, publishers and visual artists. In her talk, Levy outlined the dangers to this constituency of a too-broad educational exception in Bill C-32. I quote:
Levy argued that the exception for education is so broad that they could indeed undermine the legitimate interests of the rights holder, thus preventing the normal exploitation of the work and creating problems under [the] Berne [Convention].
Levy further pointed out that the crux of the tension lay with the question of whether the scope of fair dealing under C-32 is oriented around payment or access—or, more specifically, whether it is about simplifying the process of accessing works for educational purposes, or allowing for broad access, but with payment required in compensation for said access. Levy argued that access with payment is a viable alternative and one that should be pursued under copyright reform provisions, going forward, instead of the broad provisions that are currently being adopted.
Note the explicit connection between access and payment.
I have argued extensively that much of the current campaigning for a broad educational fair dealing category and interpretation is aimed less at increasing access than at decreasing, if not eliminating, payment. Those who deny this cost-reduction connection today have previously advised that with a broad interpretation of educational fair dealing much licensing cost could be eliminated.
The argument for cost-savings on the backs of rightsholders usually references the poor students. I have shown a number of times that copyright licensing as currently structured and even with proposed increases is exceedingly affordable for Canadian universities and should not represent a burden to individual students. In fact, one large Canadian university could pay the licensing fee for every post-sec student in Canada with little to no pain at the bottom line. And since universities continue to charge ever-increasing tuition to students attending and graduating from their programs, education is unquestionably a commercial use where copyright is concerned.
This week we learn of one Canadian university that is actually being fined for increasing tuition fees beyond provincially mandated standards – a 900% increase, it seems. From the Toronto Star:
The Quebec government’s punishment of McGill University comes amid an increasingly heated debate about tuition fees — which are lower in that province than anywhere else in the country.
Education Minister Line Beauchamp says the government will penalize McGill for imposing fee hikes that go well beyond the provincial limit of $1,673 per semester.
The Montreal university began charging $29,500 in tuition for its MBA program this year.
The Canadian Press digs deeper into the story:
In order to charge the higher rates, McGill has given up the public funding it receives for the MBA program. The move follows a similar one by Queen's University, which privatized its MBA program in the 1990s, allowing it to set tuition rates higher than provincial limits. Several other MBA programs, including those at the universities of Toronto and Western Ontario, have since followed suit.
Is the trend of privatization in Canadian post-secondary education driving the cost-savings agenda around educational fair dealing? I think it’s a fair question that deserves careful consideration by the C-32 Committee currently studying the bill and its many new exceptions. After all, if privatization leads naturally to 900% tuition hikes, wouldn’t it stand to reason private programs will look for any cost-savings they can find?