Fed submits ideas for Copyright review

The Federation of BC Writers has submitted its ideas on how to go about reviewing the Canadian Copyright Act to the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology.

As part of its mandatory five-year review of the Act, the IST recently undertook a round of regional hearings, beginning in Halifax May 7 and winding up in Vancouver May 11. One of the main issues raised at those hearings by the literary community has been the ongoing dispute over ‘fair use’ or ‘fair dealing’.

A ‘modernization’ of the Act in 2012, included ‘education’ as permitted purpose under the Act’s fair dealing provisions. Authors and publishers argue that the education sector has since been interpreting the clause in ways that override their rights.

Life Member George Opacic presented to an ‘open mic’ session of the review hearings in Vancouver. “We support the positions of Access Copyright, particularly with respect to fair dealing. This concept has been used inappropriately, recently determined on more than one occasion by decisions of the Federal Court and elsewhere, as an excuse to make free copies of creative works without rational bounds,” he told the committee.

“The purely financial reasons driving the initiatives of academic institutions have callously bypassed the intent of the fair dealing exclusion to copyright protection.”

His remarks to the Vancouver hearing are posted on the Fed web site.

Fed member Jerry Thompson also spoke to the committee. He said it’s not fair dealing at all for cash strapped educational institutions to try and cut corners by denying struggling authors a portion of their usually meagre incomes.

“I do realize that after years of budget cuts to education that schools and universities are desperately looking for ways to cut corners. But writers are not in a position to subsidize underfunded schools. You cannot cover a budget shortfall in public education by stealing from writers,” Thompson said.

“As a writer, my message to this Committee is: ‘Please help us clarify “fair use” as quickly as possible.’ We can’t afford to wait for a long, drawn-out deliberation. Canadian writers and publishers have been losing $30 million per year since 2013. That’s a lot of unpaid rent, unbought groceries, daycare, prescription medicines—you name it. Writers are not rich people. The loss of this income hurts.”

His remarks to the committee are also posted on the Fed web site.

The Fed – while asking for immediate action on the fair use issue – endorsed a longer range, overall proposal, which has been submitted in writing to the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology. The document urges the committee to conduct a study between now and the next five-year review, which will take place in 2022, to determine how technological and social change are affecting the ability of writers to earn a living from their work, and how the Canada Copyright Act can be amended to account for those new circumstances.

Says the conclusions to the Fed’s submission:

  • Clarify fair dealing language in the Copyright Act so that authors get paid for reproduction of their work in the education sector.
  • Between now and the next five-year review of the Copyright Act, design and implement a study to determine how well the Act is protecting writers’ ownership of their work and their ability to derive an income from it. This research should pay special attention to technological and social innovations that are changing the way books are produced, published, distributed and sold.
  • In time for the next five-year review, be prepared to recommend amendments to the Copyright Act that will strengthen the rights of authors to fair compensation for their work.

The submission to the committee has been posted to the Fed web site.

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