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What gives you the right?

For students, it’s pretty easy to forget about copyright. Copyright isn’t sexy. But like it or not, students and young people are at the forefront of the battle for balanced copyright laws in Canada.
Of course, copyright exists to protect the rights people want over their knowledge, or art. But there is a point at which stopping the reproduction of something can prevent the creation of something else. That’s where our rights as users and consumers come in.

Last month, Access Copyright – a licensing agency that collects money from businesses, schools, libraries and various government departments to permit the photocopying of copyrighted material – raided a copy centre in Toronto for illegally photocopying course packs and textbooks for students.

“Copyright in Canada must be safeguarded,” Executive Director Maureen Cavan asserted in a news release from Access Copyright. “The hard work of authors and publishers must be protected.”

The agency has gone far and wide to protect those creator rights. In 2007, Access Copyright sued Staples for copyright infringement because their customers could unlawfully photocopy at self-service stations.

More recently, in their submission to the federal government’s copyright consultations, Access Copyright suggested the government clamp down on “fair dealing” for copyright, and move away from copyright legislation that would make it easier to share resources amongst libraries, and over Internet databases.

Under current legislation, “fair dealing” is defined as being allowed to reproduce copyrighted material for research, private study, criticism, review or news reporting. But these exceptions are still quite restrictive.

Unlike our counterparts in the United States, Canadians have the right to change the format of copyrighted material we’ve paid for – to tape our favourite shows when we have class, or to use copyrighted material to remix music, create wannabe Girl Talk mash-ups, or for parody.

But as Laura Murray, copyright scholar and Queen’s English professor, told a group of Dalhousie students and faculty on Oct. 26, “Copyright is not just about owners’ rights. User rights are just as important. It’s not a favour.”

Copyright issues affect student life. Every photocopied article, every course pack, every shared track or movie file.

A student might go to the Killam Library to sign out a reserved reading for English class. But just one copy isn’t enough for a class of 80 students. Professors struggle to lawfully provide cost-free reading material.

The Canadian Association of University Teachers wants easier access to copyrighted material. The association of nearly 65,000 teaching staff, librarians and academics issued a report last September that says a more user-friendly copyright law will help those creative juices flow.

Part of the report centres on the digital era. Because technological advancements have created loopholes in copyright issues, members of the association worry changes to the

Copyright Act will further restrict user rights. Their report states that the Copyright Act needs to protect the right to fair dealing.

The digital era is changing the way we think about copyright. More people are becoming interested in the issue. Now is the time to talk about it.

The Gazette’s copyright-themed issue is registered under the creative commons license ‘Attribution Non-Commercial’. To learn more about this license, visit or

Attribution Non-Commercial: “This license lets others remix, tweak and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.”


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