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Limitations and Exceptions of Copyright to Education (and Technology)

I struggled quite a bit this week on what to post on my blog because there seems to be lots of interesting topics to talk about, research on, and offer up a discuss that should elicit further knowledge or research. It was hard to settle on something. But I have decided to look at Copyright laws from a rather lighter side hoping that it would be written in a simplified form by striping the heavy legal language and jargons and such as will bring further knowledge to myself and my class.

So, I have chosen a topic which is difficult and has been making the rounds on the tables of negotiators of global treaties and conventions. I thought a little bit of history might provide some better context.

Copyright has a history dating back to the 15th century. In 1662 a licensing act was established to register licensed books. Its intent was to regulate books and monitor their writings (UK). That act lasted up until 1681 when it was repealed [1]. In 1710, the Statute of Anne was enacted which gave considerable powers to copyright holders. An infringer was fined one ‘peny’ “for every sheet which shall be found in his, her, or their Custody, either Printed or Printing, Published.”[2] This, in essence made copyright a crime and a granted a fixed term of 14 years to owners of copyrighted works, 120 years for works that were already created prior to this law.

In 1886, the International Copyright Act also known as the Berne Convention [3] was instituted. This was an improvement and a codification of existing copyright laws and the beginning of international treaties seeking signatories from various countries. The plethora of protection covered by the Berne convention ranged from cinematographic works, works of architecture, to dramatic and musical works, and broadcasting rights. While the convention was initially ratified by these two countries, it was conceived for a global ascension of countries. Currently, there are a total of 164 countries that are signatories to the Berne Convention. Eight countries (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Tunisia, United Kingdon) were part of the initial signatories on December 5, 1887. Canada (April 10, 1928) and the United States (March 1, 1989) came in much later [4].

The Canadian Copyright Act, current to January 25, 2010 defines copyright, “in relation to a work, [as] the sole right to produce or reproduce the work or any substantial part thereof in any material form whatever, to perform the work or any substantial part thereof in public or, if the work is unpublished, to publish the work or any substantial part thereof…”[5]. It covers literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works; computer programs, and broadcast.

Civil society organizations such as the EFF[6], educations bodies[7] and certain individuals[8] claim these laws are limiting, restrict innovation and access, and benefits only certain persons other than the actual rights holders. Consumer International claims copyright is not only a business issue but also a consumer issue[9]. Some of these interventions have questioned existing copyright laws resulting in alternatives to copyright and concessions on some of these provisions. Some outcomes include initiatives such as creative commons [10], access to knowledge[11], and limitations and exceptions provisions for the scholarly (education), visually impaired and archivist. The summary of this movement, is that copyright is restrictive and reduces access to knowledge works and materials. And that there should be certain exceptions and limitations to some works for the purposes of education, research, archiving and preservation, and for visually impaired persons.

The Canadian copyright law allows for certain fair dealings provisions. Section 29 of the Copyright Act (R.S., 1985, c. C-42) allows for use of copyrighted materials in research and private study, criticisms and review purposes, and for news reporting.

Perhaps, of more importance to us in class, is the application of this to technology. Copyright infringements are linked to the ‘unlawful’ hosting of copyrighted materials online. The Digital Milennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is an extension of the US copyright law to the digital/online space. This act has a provision that enforces a “notice take down” (NTD) clause which requires that infringing content on any given website must be taken down as soon as the Internet service provider has been informed of such content. Google[12] and creative commons[13] comply with the DMCA (and the NTD clause). An interesting project that has arisen from this is the Chilling Effects Clearing House[14] which maintains a database of all notice take downs, while at the same time ensuring the fairness of the infringement process. A key component of the DMCA is the DRM clause which controls access to digital copyrighted works and also criminalizes circumventions of these works. The Open Rights Groups (ORG) thinks this is an infringements of their rights and speaks out against this (see,

However, there are claims that DRMs may not be the most appropriate means of protecting copyright. In fact, the ORG claims victory over its consistent campaign against DRM when Apple and Amazon decided to drop their restrictions[15].

So, I will tie this all together. Copyright has been an age old discussion that initially protected arts and literary works but is currently extended to the Internet, to music, culture, and digital products. An international organization such as the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) currently manages and hosts negotiations around global treaties and conventions on intellectual property and copyright which countries such as Canada and the US are signatories to. These countries have existing fair use provisions but they are not completely responsive to certain needs. Consumer and citizen organizations have been interested in the fairness of such legal provisions and it is important that such fairness extends to education, visually impaired persons and for the purposes or archiving. The push continues to extend limitations and exceptions to copyrighted works in these areas and WIPO[16] is still coordinating these global debates.

[6] [7], aca2k is an academic research body probing the relationship between copyright and access to knowledge. It is a project funded by the Canadian IDRC.

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  1. Julye D. Rogoski Julye D. Rogoski

    Very interesting Ben. Thanks for the information. It is good to learn where ideas and laws stem from, it can sometimes help us to understand a little bit bitter.

  2. Mike Mike

    This is great information, and timely, Ben. There is quite a bit of controversy in Canada about this. After the aborted copyright bill a few years ago, consultations were held. Now it seems that the Canadian government is involved in 'secret' discussions with other countries. Considerable pressure is being put on Canada by the US to change our laws to be like theirs. Very restrictive and not good for consumers – or educators. Not sure of the status of all this now. Michael Geist of the University of Ottawa is a leader in fighting this. Here is the fair copyright group:
    I find that Jesse Brown, of Search Engine on TVO (podcast available on iTunes) keeps up on this issue as well.

    Thanks for this, Ben.

  3. Paul Paul

    Thanks Ben for taking the time to do this. Very informative.

  4. Mike Macaraeg Mike Macaraeg

    Thanks for putting this up, Ben. I was particularly interested in reading what you wrote on online content.

  5. Garry Garry

    Ben, you have just told me a bunch of things I really did not know. Thanks. Interesting how there can be so many laws and branching twists from one simple concept – one's right to and subsequent benefit from his/her property. I am aware of what (old – gotta love it!) Mike said regarding the quashed copyright bill and the current backroom wrangling among a group of, what is it, 7? Here's a link to a PBS production called Copyright Criminals, It gets to what Roland pointed out last week with regard to music. Seems like noise has been legitimized as music. What next?

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