Provost Dru Marshall speaking with faculty members about Access Copyright's new model plan.
Michael Grondin/the Gauntlet

Debating new copyright laws

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The new model copyright agreement proposed by Access Copyright, a corporation set up to protect intellectual property, is causing discussion and uncertainty within universities across Canada.

As of April 16, 2012, Access Copyright and the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada decided upon a new model agreement, which is causing concern regarding whether the agreement will benefit students and help them get information they need for classes, or leave them paying too much, with too much supervision and less access to texts.

"It's a very complex license. The university is considering all aspects," said provost and vice-president academic of the University of Calgary Dru Marshall. "Ultimately, what we want to do as a university is we want to ensure that students here have a very positive experience."

The new agreement will allow students, faculty and department heads of Canadian schools the opportunity to reproduce print and digital works which are protected under copyright.

According to Marshall, the timing to sign the agreement is tricky, as the license isn't finalized and the new copyright bill-- Bill C-11-- is before parliament. A decision to join the license must be made by May 15, 2012.

"We want to make sure that we are not only protecting the institution, but also the professors, staff and the students that are in the institution," said Marshall at a town hall meeting with faculty heads, professors and students on May 9, 2012. "We're hoping that we have more covered than we currently do now."

The U of C ended its agreement with Access Copyright on September 1, 2011 because the collective proposed a $45 interim tariff per student for access to texts, raised from $3.38 plus 10 cents per page for course readings. Until now, the U of C has handled copyright dealings on its own.

The new license, which is adding online and digital works to the agreement for the first time, will have a fee of roughly $26 per full-time or equivalent student.

However, now that the new agreement has been introduced, many Canadian schools are currently debating joining the collective.

The U of C administration has sought internal and external legal council to ensure they are making the right decisions for individuals within the institution.

According to Marshall, any changes will be made in the interest of protecting students and faculty members. Marshall is confident that the concern over added surveillance for students and teachers is unnecessary.

"People are concerned that 'Big Brother' is going to come in and monitor your email," said Marshall. "We have been assured, and it actually says in the Access Copyright model license, that that is not going to happen."

According to Students' Union vice-president academic Kenya Jade-Pinto, consultations regarding the new agreement will continue, and getting opinions from many groups on campus is what is most important at this time.

"There are plusses and there are drawbacks for either decision," said Jade-Pinto. "If we choose not to sign on to the agreement, the issue then becomes monitoring compliance with respect to copyright. If we choose to sign on to the agreement, monitoring will be done by Access Copyright, which alleviates some stress from the university, but there's also the fee."

Jade-Pinto said if the U of C agrees to join the license, the best thing is for the fee not to be directed at students.

"We are confident that the university will make a decision that is to the benefit of all people on campus," she said. "The SU hopes that the students will not be negatively affected."

The U of C will potentially sign on to the agreement for the first six weeks and opt out by June 30, but the discussions are still ongoing. Marshall says an end goal is to have the U of C dealing with copyright on their own, with all of their own checks and balances in place where students, staff and faculty have freedom and protection when accessing copyrighted works.