A draft study presented last week at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is of particular relevance to Canada. The revision of the Canadian Copyright Act's fair dealing provisions in 2012 to include dealing for educational purposes, as well as a Supreme Court of Canada decision of the same year relating to classroom materials, have led many Canadian universities to conclude, and to adopt the policy, that the inclusion of articles or book chapters, for example, in hard copy and electronic course packs, is fair dealing that does not require permission or payment of copyright fees. This interpretation is currently being challenged in a Canadian lawsuit against York University.
Is the Canadian universities' interpretation of fair dealing in line with the policies adopted in other countries? Professor Seng's study should shed some light on this question. He notes that "Educational anthology limitations and
exceptions are found in 94 provisions from 85 member states" (Sheng, 22). However, some states place restrictions on course pack copying; 12 provisions, according to Sheng, require equitable remuneration to be paid to copyright holders (Sheng, 22).
Seng's study was introduced in the context of discussions toward a possible international instrument on copyright provisions for educational and research institutions. Numerous states have made proposals for new international norms, some of which relate to the question of course packs. Finland, for example, has made the main proposal on course packs. It is very restrictive, in that it would require payment of remuneration, restrict anthologies to print anthologies only, and would allow only the use of works more than five years old (p. 26; see also p. 14).
Many of the proposals currently on the table at WIPO (relating not only to course packs, but also to the use of copyright works in the classroom, in distance learning, in research, and in reverse engineering) are far more restrictive than current interpretations of Canadian educational fair dealing. They are, therefore, important to watch.
Canadian universities' current interpretations of fair dealing as it relates to course packs could face two challenges: the first arises from the York University lawsuit, which may take ten years to wind its way to the Supreme Court of Canada. The second comes from a possible WIPO international treaty or instrument that could reinforce or, just as possibly, restrict educational user rights in Canada.
Canada should take an active role in the negotiations, promoting robust and fair user rights for education.
NB: Chapter 4 of my book International Copyright and Access to Knowledge (discount code:Bannerman2015) addresses the history and present politics of copyright in educational works. Titled "Access to education, libraries, and traditional knowledge," the chapter notes that while, at national levels, the history of Western copyright is strongly tied to the principle of access to education, the same is not true of the international copyright system, Rather, the international system, with its mission civilisatrice, served to restrict copyright provisions for the encouragement of education.