This is important ...

12/15/2007 12:15:00 pm

Normally, national politics is not something I blog about. This issue is different. It crosses the boundaries of politics, technology and education; not just the spheres those words encompass but international boundaries as well. And it may really hurt students and teachers.


Canada's Minister of Industry, Jim Prentice is about to introduce a new "copyright" bill to parliament strongly influenced by special interests outside Canada and the United States' DMCA. This is being touted as a Canadian DMCA; one that may be even more restrictive than the DMCA in the United States.

First a little context, and then why I think this is an important issue, not just for Canadian educators, but educators everywhere.


Michael Geist, a Canadian lawyer and professor of law, has been blogging about this issue full on for a while now. The CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, one of our two national media outlets) has a regular podcast called Search Engine (Clarence turned me on to this, I am now an avid subscriber. They talk each week about the intersection between the evolution of the internet and the society in which we live.). Search Engine has been podcasting about the new copyright bill for the last few weeks. The most recent 27 minute episode devotes the first 15 minutes to:

• summarizing the debate so far.

• articulating some of the controversy surrounding Minister Prentice's apparent lack of willingness to answer the concerns surrounding this legislation by the Canadian public.

• and the role Facebook played in starting a rally at the Minister's offices in Calgary last week. It includes some audio of the event and an interview with the rally organizer.

The good news is that the bill has been delayed until at least late January. Up until now, it has seemed as though the Minister was trying to rush the bill through parliament. The delay allows the government to take a more thoughtful and "technologically mature" (more about this below) approach to this legislation. More importantly, Canada, late to the "new copyright legislation" game internationally, has a real opportunity to play a leadership role illustrating how a technologically sophisticated society can try to find a balance between copyright holders and copyright users in the digital age.


My students are currently working on their Developing Expert Voices projects. (Last year's projects are here.) They are creating content, at the uppermost limit of their understanding, that educates an interested learner. They have to publish this content online. Mine is only one of many classes around the globe publishing their content online. Some of that content is remixed copyrighted material. Canada's copyright legislation doesn't include a fair use clause, that's an American legal concept; we have a fair dealing clause, it's a little more restrictive. Reading it won't lead to a straightforward answer to the question: "Can I use short video clips from a TV program in my project?" The current legislation doesn't even mention digital media of any sort, only print media. It needs to be updated.

The internet has made this a world without borders. When we publish content online it is distributed, within seconds, around the world. Copyright holders have rights. In Canada, so do copyright users. Exactly what those rights are is very murky, although Laura Murry (Queens U.) and Sam Trusow (U. of Western Ontario) have written a book to try and help clear it up a bit. Here is an excerpt:

As the Supreme Court declared in Théberge v. Galerie d’Art du Petit Champlain (2002), “Excessive control by holders of copyrights and other forms of intellectual property may unduly limit the ability of the public domain to incorporate and embellish creative innovation in the long-term interests of society as a whole, or create practical obstacles to proper utilization.” The court also noted, “Once an authorized copy of a work is sold to a member of the public, it is generally for the purchaser, not the author, to determine what happens to it.” In 2004, in CCH v. Law Society of Upper Canada, the Supreme Court was even more explicit about the importance of users’ rights.

Many teachers and parents have kids who are publishing work online. Work they can and should be proud of. The content they remix can come from anywhere, across any border. The read/write web is not just a computer geek phenomenon, it has impacted all cultures across the planet. This cultural shift, sometimes described as participatory culture, needs to be included in a modern approach to copyright legislation. The public, or copyright users, effected by this legislation span the globe.

If there is any doubt about the impact that participatory culture is having on our society listen to that episode of Search Engine. At 10 min. 43 sec. there is an audio excerpt from a recent sitting of the House of Commons (our national legislature). In particular listen to the comments made by one of the opposition Members of Parliament made at the 12 min. 23 sec. mark. When the significance of Facebook is referenced in political debate in the legislature it has clearly evolved into something more than a pastime for kids. (There is a group on Facebook, which today has over 26 000 members, called Fair Copyright for Canada.)

Kids should be able to share their learning in creative ways; they should be able to say what they've learned, differently. Their creativity should be encouraged and nurtured as they make positive contributions to the participatory culture in which we live. Copyright legislation that doesn't take this into account, from the perspective of the copyright user, will stifle creativity in our culture, our society and our children. No one says this more eloquently than Larry Lessig in his recently published TED Talk: 3 Stories and An Argument. If you haven't seen it, here it is:


Watch the video below, or read this. If you're not Canadian, don't let that stop you from expressing your opinion too. This issue will effect you; either as a user of Canadian copyrighted materials or when your nation's legislators begin to draft their modern copyright legislation. They'll look around at Canada, and other countries for guidance on how to draft it. What do you hope they'll see when they look over here?

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  1. Thanks for this post. The issue of harmfully restrictive copyright really is important--way more important than most educators can even begin to comprehend. As someone who works in special education, I'm concerned that the new legislation may even have an adverse affect on access to text in alternative formats for individuals with special needs. The new legislation definitely has the potential to limit alternative means for individuals with learning disabilities to demonstrate their learning. Thanks again for articulating the situation and for the call to action.

  2. Hi Paul,

    I've never been much concerned with issues of copyright ... until the last few years. As my students and I publish more content online I've become much more aware and concerned about it.

    I try to teach them how to remix content without stealing by using (cc) materials. My greatest concern is the same as Larry Lessig's in the closing minutes of his TED talk. Excessively restrictive copyright legislation may breed a generation of people who take breaking the law as a matter of course. Aside from the many issues this raises, that creates an extremely "corrosive" environment for our children to grow up in.

  3. Just browsing the internet. You have a very, very interesting blog.

  4. Anonymous1/1/08 11:33

    Thanks Freddie.