Western addressing copyright in shifting national landscape

When Western, along with the University of Toronto, severed ties with Access Copyright, a not-for-profit organization representing copyright owners, the move to overhaul the university’s copyright policy on its own was decried by some and cheered by others, although neither side knew what the future would hold.

Today, Western officials are optimistic about the completion of two major “milestones,” while keeping an eye on the ever-shifting future of copyright.

“You go in with the notion copyright is this really complicated thing you need to be a lawyer to understand,” said Tom Adam, Western’s project manager and special advisor to the provost on copyright. “But really, it boils down to a fairly simple process.

“If we can reach the community with the information they need, and make copyright part of the conversation, part of their considerations, then we’re there.”

Launched in December 2013, the Copyright @ Western website, copyright.uwo.ca, is at the heart of the university’s strategy. On the site, users can find a wealth of information germane to their instruction – including Adam’s two key milestones.

“Tom’s work over the past year has been key to putting in place the resources and information that will help faculty, students and staff understand their rights and responsibilities in the use of copyright-protected materials, and his leadership has allowed us to make good progress on this file,” said Janice Deakin, provost and vice-president (academic).

Milestone No. 1 was the arrival of the university’s Copyright Decision Map, officially launched December 2013. The map is based on models from many universities, predominately Toronto and the University of British Columbia.

“We haven’t been reinventing the wheel, by any stretch of the imagination,” said Adam, BA’79 (Visual Arts), MLIS’93, who has been with Western Libraries for 30 years. “We looked at guidelines and processes to guide people through the copyright process from all sorts of places. Many were repetitive, word heavy.

“We were interested in developing something easy and intuitive, that would work for the majority of situations. I think we have.”

The university’s map rotates around five questions: Is the material you wish to copy still protected by copyright? Is the proposed use ‘substantial’? Does permission exist in the form of a license? Is the use allowed under a statutory exception? Do you need to secure copyright clearance?

“There will always be exceptional cases, or ‘odd things’ instructors want to provide for the class,” Adam continued. “But I think, following the decision map will safeguard everyone. It is a simple five-step, five-question process that should work.”

Milestone No. 2 was the university’s Fair Dealing Analysis tool, launched in June 2014.

“We distilled fair dealing guidelines from all over the place into our analysis,” Adam said. “Because it is big, because there’s a lot of stuff around it, and because it’s confusing – there is nothing explicit about it in the (Copyright) Act – making an easy way to navigate fair dealing was a big thing for us.”

With these pieces in place, Western is well-positioned to address the present, Adam said. As for the future, additional resources for the website are expected to come online in upcoming months.

Launched later this month, Ask Copyright will allow users to type in questions and receive answers drawn from a database of actual questions Adam has received.

Launched by year’s end, a License Look-up Tool, pioneered by Western Libraries, will allow members of the university community to search specific journals, or journal packages, and get a quick overview of the associated permissions.

Down the road, Adam foresees a streamlined process for instructors to organize their supplemental materials – be it reserved readings on a physical or digital shelf or course packs sold at the university bookstore.

All projects, Adam said, are working toward a smoother copyright environment.

“We’re hoping to make copyright more embedded, more intuitive and more universal in the learning management system,” he said.

And then there is the flipside of the conversation – the creators.

“The project itself has been focused on user accountabilities and user rights,” Adam added. “We need to pay the same attention to creators; we are a community of both creators and consumers of information here. Thinking about user rights, we need to provide the same tools and resources for authors.”

Canadian copyright law has seen – and will continue to see – some of its most dramatic changes ever in the near future.

First passed in 1921, the Copyright Act of Canada was amended only twice – 1988 and 1997 – before two years ago. In June 2012, the Copyright Modernization Act (Bill C-11) redefined the current copyright landscape, including expanding the definition of ‘fair dealing’ to include education alongside research, private study, criticism and review. That means educational entities are not tied to the strict royalty landscape for use of materials for educational purposes.

The act also demands it be reviewed – and, if necessary, updated – every five years.

The courts will be heavily involved as well.

There are a number of copyright-related cases pending, including ones involving Access Copyright. A 2013 lawsuit launched by Access Copyright against York University will serve as the first legal test of new fair-dealing guidelines adopted by many universities.

“That decision is going to impact all of us. So, we are going to have to sustain the resources we have available,” Adam said.

Another round of university-Access Copyright agreements, ones signed the year Western and Toronto went on their own, are coming due. That could create another surge of copyright interest.

Adam’s term expires in December, but that doesn’t mean the work will stop. How the university handles the sustainability of its copyright project – not only maintaining the work completed, but keeping it relevant – may be the next major challenge.

Where does copyright reside in the university structure? Does it require a permanent office? If so, what does that look like? What would its mandate be?

For now, those are questions for which even Adam has no answer.

“Looking ahead, our biggest challenge will be making sure we include copyright literacy as an expected learning outcome in our academic programs,” Deakin said. “Whether or not we need a full-time copyright advisor, and where that office would be housed if we chose to create such a role, is a matter currently under consideration.”