Kate Taylor: Kids will suffer if Canada’s copyright legislation doesn’t change

If you are sitting in a Grade 10 classroom in Ontario studying civics this year, you may well be using Civics and Citizenship, published by Oxford University Press. It’s a standard text for the compulsory course, examining how the Canadian political system works and asking students to consider such questions as whether our justice system is just or whether, if you didn’t live in Canada, you would want to. It was written and edited by Canadians and also offers online access to an interactive workbook and a directory of 250 primary and secondary sources.

Released in 2014, it is the last schoolbook Oxford will publish in Canada. The venerable academic publisher, a non-profit institution owned by the British university, which has operated a Canadian branch since 1904, stopped producing texts for Canadian schools two years ago, cancelling plans for history and geography texts that were in the works. Oxford still sells its backlist to schools but will not consider publishing new school titles nor refreshing old ones.

As learning goes digital, publishing textbooks has become an increasingly difficult business everywhere, but Canada has made the situation worse, threatening children’s access to Canadian teaching materials, through its ill-conceived copyright legislation.

Balancing users’ rights with those of creators is always a tricky business and when the previous Conservative government updated the copyright law in 2012, publishers and writers warned that it had made far too large and vague an exemption for educational purposes, considering that digital copying in universities and photocopying in schools is standard practice and was licensed to the education sector by publishers. At the time, provincial education ministries promised they would only copy what was fair, but defining fair has proved highly contentious.

In 2013, emboldened by the new environment, the education ministries (outside Quebec) stopped making payments to Access Copyright, which licences copying in schools and universities for the publishers. Alberta had sued the association and in 2012 got a decision from the Supreme Court, ruling that the copying of short passages, even if copied multiple times, was fair. The court, which was split 5-4, did not define short but the Council of Ministers of Education has, telling teachers they can freely photocopy as much as 10 per cent of a work or one chapter in any book. A February decision from the federal Copyright Board has now set a new tariff for the education ministries to pay Access Copyright, lowering the amounts to a fraction of previous levels, and arguing that the Supreme Court decision makes such copying fair – and thus not subject to payment.

But the publishers are not merely suffering lower revenue from Access Copyright; more importantly, they are also losing sales. They suspect that schools are copying far more than 10 per cent: Where they used to get orders for classroom sets, they will now get an order for a single book.

The results are stark. Oxford has closed a school publishing program that dated back to the 1930s. OUP Canada general manager Geoff Forguson says that, as a non-profit, the press is not permitted to take losses on the books it publishes and that Canadian school publishing has simply become too risky. Emond Publishing, an independent Canadian academic publisher that specializes in law texts for students and professionals, has also abandoned the secondary-school market. Paul Emond says that, as a businessman, he sees much better opportunities publishing material for lawyers than for high-school students.

Meanwhile, at the international educational presses whose Canadian branches publish many original textbooks as well as repurposing U.S. books for the Canadian market, it has become harder and harder to get head office to sign off on any plans for new Canadian titles.

The education sector is always struggling to make ends meet, but the sums actually spent on schoolbooks are paltry and falling, representing dozens of dollars compared to the thousands spend on each student every year. Recent Ontario surveys by People for Education, a group that advocates for public education, found that teachers increasingly turn to free online materials, using fewer Canadian sources in the classroom and fewer materials directly tied to the provincial curriculum. The group is concerned there is no quality control of free material.

The cash-strapped school system may have discovered a great way to save a few dollars per student but, unless the federal government plugs the loophole, education will pay in the end. Teachers will gradually discover that high-quality classroom material about Canadian history, geography and politics specifically tailored to their province’s curriculum simply isn’t available either in print or online because the publishers and writers who once created it have left the business.

As battles over piracy and copyright rage, it is rare that you can actually name the music that wouldn’t be recorded or the novels that wouldn’t be written, but in this instance you can cite the losses: There will not be a second edition of Civics and Citizenship. Canadian kids can count on that.

Also on The Globe and Mail

Have university textbooks been rendered obsolete?
(CTVNews Video)

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

10 thoughts on “Kate Taylor: Kids will suffer if Canada’s copyright legislation doesn’t change”

  1. That’s well written. Most of what appears on the press on the subject of copyright is pseudo-liberal bafflegab, obfuscating the simple, ugly truth: much of the population will steal what they can if done easily and without risk. Digital technology promises a cheap and ugly future in which anything which can be expressed in words – ideas, wisdom, information, discussion, etc. – is reduced in value to something near zero. Sic transit, etc..

  2. Something just doesn’t feel right about this editorial.
    Firstly I wonder how often it really is necessary to have province specific texts and for which subjects. Mathematics or science are universal regardless of national or provincial identity.
    Many of these text books have a new edition released every 2 yrs when very little of the actual material covered is changed and if it is, often it is politically correct tinkering.
    And the fact is that free sources like Wikipedia do provide a pretty decent balanced source for basic history, civics, politics and other social science knowledge and is responsive to changing information without the cost of having to print the whole book again with one paragraph changed.
    As for online learning activities – isn’t that what teachers are paid so very well for providing students with learning activities and evaluating what has been learned. An expensive kit that just requires instructors follow the instructions really lowers the bar on the required skill set for a teacher.

  3. “The group is concerned there is no quality control of free material.” I have looked at the math textbooks (paid for by the Board of Education) used by my daughter. They are of shockingly poor quality.

  4. An intelligent response to this article from someone who has spent considerable effort studying the copyright regime in Canada, Meera Nair, can be found here:

    “The effort spent railing about fair dealing could be better spent seeking measures that will target support directly to Canadian creators.”

    In addition, and further to my earlier comment about balanced news reporting, I notice that the G&M’s exclusive about the Liberal government’s review of Canada’s cultural policies* refers to the Copyright Act as a law that “protects the creations of artists and aims to ensure they are paid when their work is used.” Again, it seems that G&M reporters would benefit from enhanced copyright literacy skills. The legislation itself and recent interpretation by our highest court support a balance between the rights of creators (not necessarily the same as rights holders) and users. Where is the users’ side represented in the G&M’s coverage of this important policy issue?


  5. This article raises some very good points but it’s only part of a much larger discussion. Unfortunately the prevailing attitude to online content is that it’s automatically free, or if it’s not it should be. This ignores the enormous amount of work that creators put into creating words and images – work they should fairly be compensated for.

    The real problem is that we talk grandly about “intellectual property” but no one really seems to believe that it is actual property. A teacher who would never walk into a store and walk out with hundreds of dollars in school supplies often feels perfectly justified in taking material worth hundreds of dollars from the Internet without understanding that his or her actions are actually theft.

    This gets worse at the university level where student federations have adopted the position that the fair dealing section of the copyright act gives them unlimited license to reproduce entire books without payment.

    I agree with the author that this is a problem but I’m not sure how to solve it in the face of a broad attitude that online theft (and it is theft) is perfectly acceptable.

  6. I, too, wonder about some of the information in this article.

    First off, let me declare openly that I currently receive royalties under Access Copyright, so I am a content-produce­r. At the same time, I use course packs for university courses I teach. Unfortunately, my university stopped paying its own Access Copyright license several years ago. This make it much harder for me to create a legal course pack under fair use. I have used a local copy shop with an Access Copyright license, but the resulting cost of material is often very high – too high for many students.

    My understanding is that the rates charged by Access Copyright to my universotu were simply too high to justify paying the license. If that is so (and my experience with the local copy shop seems to confirm this), my own position as a content-provide­r is that I would rather receive less money per each use and see a much greater volume of use. I would probably earn more and more people would be able to access the content that I created (and which I would like people to be able to access for a reasonable price).

    I am surprised, though, that this is affecting high school and other textbook users. Most people find a text book far more convenient than photocopied material. The only reason that I use the latter at the university level is because it gives me more flexibility and a suitable textbook often does not exist for what I teach. I would be very surprised, though, if that should be the case in public schools. My daughter in high school, certainly, continues to use text books, not photocopies.

  7. It would be far cheaper for taxpayers if CMEC (the provincial education ministries) commissioned Canadian scholars to write open textbooks with an option of offering the open textbooks via free online access or paying for print runs rather than going back to the Access Copyright licence.

    This article appears to be a slight rewrite of several recent Access Copyright news releases. It would be nice if you could get a reporter who would actually take a look at both sides of the issue.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *