Universities and Copyright: Contrast and Compare

On Monday evening, Access Copyright and the Universities of Western Ontario and Toronto announced that they have entered into a new licensing deal.  The UofT agreement is available below, and I was told that the terms of the agreement with Western are identical.

Although the joint media release announcing the deal was gleeful, as a UofT Faculty member I am disappointed and concerned.  The agreement is one big step backwards for UofT, and one giant leap for Access Copyright.  Access Copyright could not have hoped for more, and UofT lost an opportunity to stand up, show leadership, and ensure that copyright law will be used for the encouragement of learning and not for suppressing it.

The agreements raise many issues and questions as discussed by Ottawa lawyer Howard Knopf and I am sure there will be enough opportunities to comment on them in greater detail, but at the moment suffice it to say that in my view the agreement is fundamentally flawed in principle and harmful in its details. It addresses overblown fears, provides imaginary gains, yet imposes real and substantial limitations on our freedoms as teachers, researchers and thinkers.

The true cost does not lie in the license fees (that UofT will likely pass onto the students), but in the copyright chill that it instills.  The cost of this great university’s unwillingness to unapologetically stand up for the rights of teachers, students and researchers, and defend its mission cannot be quantified, but they are real and substantial.  Professors Patricia Aufderheide and Peter Jazsi have recently reminded us that fair use is like a muscle; unused, it atrophies, while exercise makes it grow. This is as true in Canada as it is correct in the US.

Neither the signing of the agreement, nor its provisions are inevitable. Last week, for example, the US-based Association of Research Libraries published its Code of Best Practices for Academic and Research Libraries, which represents a radically different vision of copyright and education.  Of course, there are differences between copyright law in the US and Canada, but the true difference lies in the willingness of American educators to assert and reclaim their rights, and our reluctance to do the same.  Instead, we succumb to a culture of fear and doubt, and rush to send a check that with our own students’ money funds the lobbying against us.  Meanwhile, we let our users’ right shrink from disuse.

So here are the two documents.  Contrast and compare.  Or you can watch the video below.

Code of Best Practices – Academic & Research Libraries from Center for Social Media on Vimeo.


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