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Opinion

Libraries, educational institutions want copyright system preserved

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The future of Canadian publishing is increasingly at the forefront of debates around copyright, rights holders, and users. We in the educational sector highly value a thriving, vibrant Canadian publishing landscape. In support of this, Canadian post-secondary institutions continue to be among the largest purchasers of copyrighted content in the nation, and employ vast numbers of authors.

Our currently balanced copyright system is the result of countless rounds of consultations with Canadians across a multitude of sectors. The Copyright Act provides authors with certain rights to their content.  It also provides the Canadian public at large, including educational users, with certain rights to use that content. The Supreme Court has entrenched and—following many tests—continues to hold that copyright’s proper balance lies “not only in recognizing the creator’s rights but in giving due weight to their limited nature.” The court considers balance essential, and sees user rights as integral to advancing the public interest.

For better or worse, we have witnessed a shift from paper to electronic delivery of educational content. This shift has fundamentally changed the way copyrighted works are accessed and used, and how rights holders are compensated. Academic libraries now typically spend 70 per cent to 75 per cent of their acquisitions budgets on electronic resources. Often acquired as large bundles licensed from multinational vendors, these electronic resources cost postsecondary institutions millions of dollars annually, paid directly to publishers.

Students access licensed materials directly from the publisher’s website or via links in institutional learning management systems and electronic course reserves services. Licensing terms covering these electronic resources often provide for broad educational uses, including copying and distributing selected content for use in specific courses. In such cases, fair dealing is unlikely to come into play since the content is used in accordance with licenses negotiated and paid for by educational institutions.

As for fair dealing, in 2012 the Supreme Court confirmed teachers’ copying of short excerpts for use by students could qualify as fair dealing for purposes of research and private study, and Parliament amended the Copyright Act to include education as a fair dealing purpose. But in truth, well before 2012, libraries and educational institutions exercised fair dealing to disseminate educational materials to students, and students themselves have relied on fair dealing to copy works needed for research and private study.

Coursepacks (collections of excerpted works) represent a small and, in fact, diminishing, fraction of the copyrighted works used at postsecondary institutions.  Students continue to purchase textbooks, anthologies and other published works as required course materials. Libraries continue to purchase and subscribe to educational materials—books, journals, video libraries, and the like—in a variety of physical formats to support their institutional curricula. And many, if not most, postsecondary institutions, now have copyright offices dedicated to educating their communities about copyright law and assisting with copyright permissions and the payment of royalties when needed.

Authors and publishers will continue to thrive under Canada’s copyright regime, as extensive amounts of copyrighted content continue to be purchased or licensed by educational institutions and students. Libraries and educational institutions strongly desire to be an equal partner in efforts to ensure the delicate balance inherent in our copyright system is preserved. We aspire to be active participants in creating a sustainable system in which creators and users benefit equitably.

Bobby Glushko, head, Scholarly Communications and Copyright Office, University of Toronto

Robert Tiessen, Books and Media Collection Development Librarian, University of Calgary

Heather Martin, Copyright Officer, University of Guelph

Rumi Graham, University Copyright Adviser & Graduate Studies Librarian

The Hill Times 

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