05 September 2006

Back to School, but Leave Your Web Access at Home

Two converging forces conspire to create the imperfect storm over the academy. Coming from one side is Access Copyright, the cartel representing the content production and distribution industries (but not necessarily the actual content producers themselves). And coming from the other is the Council of Ministers of Education of Canada. The issue revolves around the intent of those who produce content for the web, including me, and perhaps even you.

Access Copyright has proposed the notion that a license fee has to be collected from the relatively bare coffers of educational institutions - from K-12 primary and secondary schools through post-secondary institutions - to cover the use by students of material published on the web. The idea of diverting taxpayer money intended for education to line the pockets of Access Copyright's member organizations might not seem completely unreasonable, until one realizes that the vast majority of material put up on the web is not produced by their members, and is put there by folks with an intention that it will be shared and used largely for personal, non-commercial purposes.

The Education Ministers, on the other hand, reacting to Access Copyright's blatant cash grab, have proposed a specific educational exception for publicly available materials on the 'net. According to Michael Geist, the ministers' proposal is better than Access Copyright, but is still problematic in its own right. In his opinion, the specific exception is not needed because of the Supreme Court ruling in the CCH case, and may violate international law. In fact,
the implication of the exception is that using publicly-available Internet materials is not permitted unless one has prior authorization or qualifies for the exception. This is simply wrong - an enormous amount of online content is intended for public use or qualifies as fair dealing - and to imply otherwise sends the wrong message.
In the larger corporate sense, there is a feeling in some circles that everything on Earth should be under corporate control, even if that apparently means that a corporate cartel ends up appropriating what has been produced for the common good. Ultimately, such a move represents the end of knowledge production and innovation, and runs counter to the dominant forces of our post-industrial-age society. As Michael Geist says, "Everyone is entitled to fair use of content on the Internet. Canadians should let Minister Pupatello [Ontario] and her fellow education ministers know that their proposal will result in great harm to Canadian education from kindergarten to universities and colleges."

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