Cutting Copyright’s Red Tape

One other thing: John Degen’s one-sided opinion piece (is that redundant?) inadvertently highlights the absolutely vital need for Canada’s Copyright Act to be simplified so that anybody can understand it.

As Degen points out, in the absence of a blanket licence, however arbitrarily applied, universities, professors and students have to deal with the letter of the law of the Copyright Act. That isn’t easy. I’ve talked about this with a couple of university prof friends, one of whom actually studies copyright policy, and they’re both at a loss to understand fully the guidelines that have been prepared by The Powers That Be at their particular universities.

That’s a huge problem – I’d go so far as to say that it’s the biggest problem facing copyright law today. A complicated copyright law may have made sense back when it was mainly a commercial law governing the content industries – lawyers gotta earn their pay, after all. But now that copyright law so directly affects the lives of individuals, students and teachers, it should be simple enough that anyone with a dollop of common sense can understand it – and agree with it.

After all, what copyright does isn’t that complicated: It sets the terms under which someone is allowed to cover whatever it is we decide should be covered by copyright law (books, musical performances, etc.). Its guiding principle is similarly straightforward: it has to encourage both the production of creative works and their dissemination.

The problem is, after decades of horsetrading, the principles of copyright have become tied up in a mess of red tape, and every new reform is a chance for groups to throw in a few more rules and exceptions.

It it wasn’t clear before this Access Copyright debacle that Canadian copyright law was in desperate a rethink and a simplification, it is now. The Conservative government is likely going to take another kick at the copyright-reform can, sooner rather than later. Wouldn’t it be great if they used the opportunity to simplify the law so that students and teachers wouldn’t have to feel like they were risking a lawsuit every time they go to the library to study?

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