OER and Canadian Copyright: Essential Facts

Guest Editorial | By Rory McGreal (Professor)

OER and Canadian copyright: Essential Facts

As the UNESCO/Commonwealth of Learning Chairholder in Open Educational Resources,  I have been involved with computerOpen Educational Resources for many years and within an international context. For K-12 educators, understanding copyright can be a bit intimidating but once you know some essential facts, OER becomes more inviting.

So – to help with this endeavour here are some essential  facts on copyright and educational publishing in Canada:

  1. Copyright is NOT a fundamental right. It is a privileged monopoly granted to publishers in order to “encourage learning”.  It is a copy right.
  2. The Canadian Supreme Court ruled on the previous copyright law, not the present one, when the schools did not accept the unsupportable views on fair dealing suggested by the publishing collectives.
  3. Fair Dealing in Canada as it presently stands is about the same as the Fair Use clause in the USA.
  4. There has been NO evidence presented that fair dealing has had any negative effect on publishers.
  5. The decline  in revenues for educational publishers can be due to the increasing access to Open Educational Resources and other freely available content on the Internet AND to the consistent increasing cost of textbooks by publishers (especially at the university and college level).
  6. Publishing collectives collected millions of dollars from educational institutions in the past based on an erroneous interpretation of fair dealing. Their threats of statutory damages caused schools to be overly restrictive in interpreting the law.
  7. There is no free ride for schools. They provide more funds to the publishing industry than any other sector of the economy. Educational publishing is still the most profitable sector of the publishing industry.
  8. The vast majority of educational spending on books etc. goes to the USA and to other countries. Only a small percentage of these funds go to Canadian publishers.
  9. The publishers collectives tried to increase per student payments to $45 per student from less than $4 per student. This is what triggered the reaction from universities.
  10. Fair dealing is NOT an exception to copyright. It is integral to copyright and this has been reaffirmed by the Canadian Supreme Court.
  11. The law does NOT allow unlimited copying, only a reasonable amount.
  12. The Supreme Court should be lauded for its interpretation based on modern trends rather than restricting progress by relying on unsupportable traditional arguments.
  13. There is no restoring of rights to educational publishers. Their interpretation of fair dealing was never correct.
  14. Finally, there has been more content created in the last year than in the whole history of the world before that. There is an increasing growth of Open Educational Resources and other free content. There is no fear that there will not be any content available for learners.

Professor Rory McGreal is s the UNESCO/Commonwealth of Learning Chairholder in Open Educational Resources. He is a professor in the Centre for Distance Education at Athabasca University– Canada’s Open University based in Alberta, Canada. He is also the director of the Technology Enhanced Knowledge Research Institute (TEKRI). And, he is a co-Editor of the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning (IRRODL), and founder of the OER Knowledge Cloud. Formerly, he served as the Associate Vice President Research at Athabasca University.


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