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Speaking Notes to the House of Commons Legislative Committee on Bill C-32 (Copyright)

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By Rory McGreal March 30, 2011 - 1:19pm

Speaking Notes to the

House of Commons Legislative Committee on Bill C-32

Dr. Rory McGreal, Associate VP, Research, Athabasca University

March 24, 2011

 Mr. Chairman, thank you for inviting Athabasca University (AU) to participate in this committee’s study of Bill C-32. I am Rory McGreal, Associate Vice President Research at the university and also the Canadian UNESCO/Commonwealth of Learning Chair in Open Educational Resources (OER), and I am accompanied today by Troy Tait our Director of Government Affairs.

Athabasca University is Canada’s Open University.  We have more than 40 000 students in all provinces and territories across Canada and in over 100 countries around the world.  Athabasca University is a fully online university; we have no on campus students, and so I hope that you can appreciate the importance of the issue of digital copyright is to us and our students, more so than traditional universities, although it is clear that ALL traditional universities are now online as part of their services to students.


I would like to remind all the committee members that copyright was initially instituted as  “An Act for the Encouragement of Learning”. Protecting the rights of authors for a limited period was seen as a way of promoting this purpose.  We would like to suggest moderate amendments to strengthen Bill C-32 that will promote the 21st century interests of both learning and publishing. 

E-books are becoming mainstream and are positioned now to displace printed books for many uses.  Commercial e-books come with all kinds of restrictions. Have you read the licenses? Is it unfair to want to own your book when you buy it? What happened to the principle “You buy it. You get it?”  As a 21st century researcher or student, it is not unreasonable for me to want to move my book from one device to another my mobile phone to my PC or tablet. Licensing makes this impossible because it is registered to only one specific device. Moreover, it is encrypted to prevent it being used on another device. Students may want to annotate or highlight a portion of text when reading and perhaps copy it to another application or device or print it out. This too is normal and fair but is prohibited by license and/or digital locks. License restrictions can also prevent book purchasers from showing their e-text to a friend or study buddy or lending or swapping the book.

In online learning, we may want to compare texts online, sharing a site with a group of students. 


The copyright owners seem to want to control in infinite detail all uses of the content including even monitoring where you are, and expecting the universities to police the use for them. The digital lock provisions in Bill C-32 will not only prevent educators and learners from using their fair dealing rights, but will also prevent them from conducting normal studies and research in a 21st century context. Digital locks should not prevent legal uses including fair dealing.


It has been argued that without such restrictions, the publishing industry in Canada will be undermined.  Sometimes actions have unintended consequences. May I respectfully suggest to the members here that if educational institutions and their students cannot make fair and reasonable use of proprietary content, that there could be a rapid and irreversible movement towards the use of open access resources.  With open educational resources, also known as OER’s, educators and students can research and study in a 21st century context without worrying about digital locks or the possibility that they might inadvertently be breaching copyright. Publishers may find that their educational market has disappeared.


A balanced (and I believe more realistic) view of copyright in relation to the economy would also take into account the importance of the “fair use” economy. Universities are not the only institutions contributing to the economy that depend on fair access and use of content. Web hosting companies, search engines, software developers, device manufactures, news agencies, and many others in aggregate contribute more to the economy than copyright-reliant industries. Bill C-32 takes a small step towards supporting these industries by expanding fair dealing to include education and other legitimate uses.


More specific to an online university, we have to strongly support the distance education provisions in Section 30.  We would like to make a strong recommendation to drop the provisions where students and the university are responsible for deleting e-texts within 30 days of the final exam and researchers must destroy their digital copies within five days.  Our exams are not semester based; students can and do take them individually all year round. These provisions would place an enormous burden on us to constantly police students, especially those who having finished Calculus 1 might believe incorrectly that holding on to their e-book for Calculus 2, might be reasonable. And, the five days provision does not fit into a 21st century research context. Researchers are forced to preserve in mounds of paper, perfectly usable electronic documents. Do we really expect modern researchers to print out all their articles and place them in a filing cabinet rather than house them digitally in a database? The irony is that publishers and copyright collectives insist on digital reports from us, but expect us to revert to print.

This submission does not support changing the essential balance that Bill C-32 is attempting to achieve.  There needs to be one approach for Britney Spears, as one US pundit put it, and another for education.  Yes, we need to protect the interests of artists without taking away the rights of learners and teachers. We respectfully request these small changes so that online learning can expand without hindrance in the 21st century.  We would like to thank the committee for this opportunity to present our views before you, and we welcome any questions you might have.