notes from copyright reform presentation

Yesterday I had the pleasure of listening to a presentation about copyright reform in the context of education in Canada.  I was a few minutes late and unfortunately missed most of the organizers names. I recognized Olivier Charboneau however, after having had spoken with him about open access publishing last year. Reading yesterdays post again, I realize the other speaker was Ben Lewis.  First off, I really appreciated the talk and hope for more.

Key issues:

  • Copyright law is confusing. Not many know what is legal and what isn’t.
  • Copyright law is not the same in Canada and the U.S.   Ie. legalities over showing copyright films in classrooms. Argued that in U.S. it is okay, but in Canada it is not.
  • Corporate lobby groups are working hard to change copyright law in their favor – but there is very little public consultation.  The Canadian Federation of Students is holding public talks/presentations to open up the dialog and to bring educational needs to the forefront of any future copyright legislation.
  • Pooling resources to access information.  Charbonneau discussed the Library as being a kind of union, which goes out and negotiates access to information on behalf of its users. Last summer librarians across Canada banded together to spend 100 million on digital materials. By banding together they have more leverage to negotiate access/cost. More clout to build digital markets.
  • Issue of academic freedom. Librarians don’t want to impose, or interfere with a teachers right to chose reading materials. Charbonneau very much supported the right of a teacher to assign a $150 text book, but he did balance this by stating the library does advocate, and suggest, alternatives.
  • The Concordia Self-Archiving Repository will be available “soon”. There are challenges involved in creating such a repository because it involves creating a usage policy between numerous academic departments.

As the presentation reached its finish, questions were posed to the audience, including a very controversial opinion poll: Do you support an internet media levy whereby all internet subscribers pay a fee ($5-$10) that gets paid to media companies to cover downloading?


This would require a way to track usage, and a way to split the revenue up fairly to artists. It was called “a truly Canadian perspective”. Sure, it is Canadian, but isn’t it also Bell Canada’s perspective?

Imagined Pro’s

Huge money pot is created to support artists.

More money to artists is a good thing.

Imagined Con’s

How do you monitor downloads? I got a hint that the plan would involve legalizing torrents and all – but I imagine Bell Canada has much bigger ideas. They want to be the only legitimate Itunes, offering specialized gateways to media. This is Bell’s way to become a government mandated Itunes. Bell would continue to “shape” traffic, killing torrents and other P2p applications, while offering a premium “fast lane” with access to selected copyright material.

If Canadian’s really wanted this, wouldn’t they subscribe to itunes? The fact is, they want to pirate it so they can stick it to the recording industry which has done nothing to fix its horrible image. The only thing with worse public relation policies than the recording industry, would be the US armies human terrain system. I buy all my movies, music, games online through media gateways like itunes, steam, etc. Would this levy work towards them too?

Why select material? There is no way a download structure could track copyright materials from around the world. Charbonneau argued that it might be possible, since already systems were in place to track the usage of essays in assigned course packs. Isn’t this exactly how Bell wants to provide tiered internet access. “Here, you paid your internet levy, now you have access to 5 course packs! Pick and choose your favorites.”Oh, you wanted access to live sports feeds? Sorry that is a different kind of copyright material. That costs $34.95 to access. Thanks.”

Some of my teachers claim they have never been paid for their essays being used in a course pack. Money is collected, but never paid to the authors. Where does it go?  Is money from course packs distributed fairly? Some teachers refuse to use course packs because they claim the system only benefits publishers and never the authors.  Now try doing this for ALL media… whoa… Okay I’m imagining this whole debate, since this was simply a question at the very end, and was not a topic discussed prior.

Canada couldn’t keep track of a gun registry, how will it fairly distribute revenue to artists??? I’m torn to scream “stay out of it government” and “government stop Bell Canada from shaping traffic”.  Clearly government policies are needed, but I can’t imagine how one could monitor downloads and get money to artists fairly.  I’m ranting again.

The big argument for having these talks was that copyright in Canada is confusing. Well in that case, can’t it simply be explained better? I found the presentation tried to create fog where there doesn’t need to be any. The presentation failed to demand, or even push open access or the Creative Commons. The reason for this was they felt “academic freedom” was equally important  (and perhaps it was meant more as a consultation than a presentation, so positions weren’t being crammed down anyones throat… it was an open talk to let others share their ideas too).

Charbonneau admitted that the library was working between numerous competing forces and that they had to “wiggle” around certain issues. Since the presentation was an attempt to motivate students to share their own perspectives on copyright reform, I’ll take a clearer stance –  since my job isn’t on the line.

STOP PUBLISHING IN CLOSED ACCESS JOURNALS AND [this battle cry has been screamed before, and perhaps we are well passed it having any consequence or meaning considering the importance of publishing in prestigious/established places.]


Okay so I avoid the entire question of music, art, creativity…by shouting at academic researchers, specifically those in anthropology,  whose livelihoods don’t depend on direct revenue from their work. So I am only touching on a tangent of what copyright reform involves.

Wouldn’t implementing a tracking system for copyright content also involve destroying whats left of anonymity online. Would users willingly allow media downloads to be tracked? How would they determine copyright when users download from international locations? Would downloads be restricted to a certain set of servers/trackers? How would media companies pay international copyright holders, or keep track of them? How would individual artists get paid, would they have to affiliate with the recording industry? Where would services like Itunes fit in?

In terms of education reform and copyright, I think the open access movement is doing a lot right.

In terms of making copyright intelligible, the Creative Commons is doing a lot right too.


10 responses to this post.

  1. Hey Owen. Sofia sent me here. Thanks for posting for those of us who could not attend. BTW you & the folks at the Open Anthropology project may be interested in an Open Montreal event we’re planning for the fall. Read more about it here:


  2. Dear Christine,

    Thanks for dropping by. The Open Montreal event looks fascinating, as do your other projects. Thanks for the info and for letting me know.

    Pardon my slow reply, I’ve managed to work myself into another ‘thesis’ state where I manifest tons of stress which then demands more procrastination. Its a nasty cycle, and I have to thank warmer weather for motivating me to get the thesis finished!


  3. copyright is particularly problematic in terms of access to education and to information. and i agree, very confusing. but i’m suspicious when the only solutions are the ones placing more burden on the users (a fee, a levy of any kind). i am suspicious precisely because there is no public consultation on this – and more importantly, no real consultation in the sense of allowing for various alternatives to emerge. education and information are always placed within a capitalist framework of discussion – and when you look at them as resources or capital, then you limit the scope of possible alternatives to copyright.

    there was a discussion that universities will support creative commons and that SSHRC will press for publication of SSHRC funded research results in open source journals only. any discussion of this? how are the universities matching this up in terms of tenure-review criteria?


  4. Dear Thinking Difference,

    Thank again for the comments. The presentation was more of an outreach to students to share their own perspectives. They shared your feeling that there needs to be much more public consultation, and I do too!

    There was very little discussion of open access publishing, or the Creative Commons. Not that they were ignored, but the presentation didn’t focus on them.

    I am not sure about the SSHRC’s policies on open access – but if you find out please share!

    Thanks again and sorry as usual for my slow reply!


  5. check synergies project (an article in CJC is here:

    also, SSHRC’s policy focus:

    now, on the link between ‘theory’/ ‘policy’ and ‘practice’, i’m afraid i’m not very knowledgeable…


  6. Owen, did you go to the Open Montreal planning meeting? I wish I had, but right now is the first time I am reading the message above, or I would have gone.


  7. Thinking Difference,

    Thanks! It’s pretty shocking to see that the SSHRC does have an open access policy, considering in my interviews with faculty at Concordia very few of them are aware of it.

    So when it comes to practice, as you say, there is a huge gap between the “recommended policy” and what is happening.

    Not only that, but it is pretty well understood by many I have spoken with, that there is a need to publish in particular places – ie prestigious journals – none of which are open access. So the SSHRC policy ignores the issue of tenure review, respectability, etc…

    But at least it’s suggesting there is a problem of access and they understand open access to research is important.

    Mandating self-archiving at an institutional repository still sounds like the best option in my mind… as unpopular as “mandates” are.



  8. Dear Max,

    At the time I was testing out advice to stop researching, stop reading, stop involving myself in the “research” in any way other than “writing it”.

    I thought it might help focus ideas, but I’m realizing the best way to focus ideas is to dig deeper into them – especially when one has the opportunity to chat with an entire community of open access advocates!

    Their wiki site is a great place to keep up with whats happening in the meantime.

    As for my slow replies now and in the future – the sun shines bright – what more can I say?


  9. Owen & Max — there will be more opportunities. Several more planning meetings and then we’re hoping to hold MontrealOuvert in September or October. Looking forward to meeting you and getting you involved. I’ll be posting the meeting notes and following up with more info.


  10. Thanks!


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