Category Archives: pedagogy

Defining the governing trend in governance today

A shrewd colleague at another institution recently offered, via Facebook (hence I’m not naming names), this concise definition of the way supposedly democratic governments work today (with a nod to the policies that pointed the way back in 1980):

“Reaganomics: spend the country into a deficit then slash social programs to ‘cut’ the very deficit you just artificially created in order to suit your ideological belief that ordinary people deserve nothing in the way of health care, education or other services.”

It’s useful to have critical definitions like this on hand, for teaching situations; put this way, such a definition captures not only the context but the contradiction of late capital. A similarly concise and incisive comment on a governance ethos that is close but not identical to Reaganomic social conservatism – libertarianism – occurs in an article on distance postsecondary education by UK researcher Greville Rumble (who in turn is summarizing the arguments of Ted Honderich):

The problem with the libertarian argument is that it allows for a perfectly just society within which there are people who have no food, no healthcare and no education (Honderich, 2002, pp. 43–44). So ‘in this [formulation of a] perfectly just society [there are people who] have no claim to food, no moral right to it. No one and nothing does wrong in letting them starve to death’ (Honderich, 2002, p. 44). ‘This’, says Honderich, ‘is vicious’ (2002, p. 44). (171)

For the full discussion – which is excellent and worthwhile whether or not you’re interested in distance PSE – see:
Rumble, Greville. “Social Justice, Economics and Distance Education.” Open Learning 22.2 (2007): 167-76. Web.

UofT, Western deal with AccessCopyright threatens #CdnPSE: costs students; surveils teachers; harms academic freedom

This tweet captures the core of the crisis now facing #CdnPSE in the aftermath of this treacherous turn in the ongoing drama between Canadian universities and the agency that collects blanket fees for photocopying (and hopes to monetize Internet linking, arguing that linking is “publication” – counter to the Supreme Court’s decision that linking is reference). Even if linking isn’t (yet) subjected to fees, these universities’ agreement to let AC monitor instructor email and require instructors to document all Internet linking (in email and in teaching generally) will mean a hugely inordinate amount of work for already overburdened sessionals and faculty.

As Howard Knopf puts it, “tens of millions of taxpayers’ dollars per year are now at stake if these agreements become the new normal in Canada.”

I wonder if it’s a subject of discussion for today’s CFS National Day of Action? An extra $27 per year per student isn’t much relative to tuition, but it’s an 800% inflation over the existing fee – a gratuitous insult added to student debt injury.
Canada’s other universities must do everything they can not to let these “voluntary licenses” become any kind of “new normal.”

For more detailed expert analysis of the U of T and Western agreements, see:
Knopf, Howard. “U of T and Western capitulate to Access Copyright.” Excess Copyright 31 Jan. 2012.
Trosow, Sam. “Toronto and Western sign licensing agreement with Access Copyright.” SamTrosow.com 31 Jan. 2012

When did I license Library & Archives Canada to sell my dissertation?

I’m discovering that the ProQuest thesis and dissertation database is full of surprises. Like my dissertation.

As a doctoral student, I had never consulted my alma mater‘s graduate student calendar copyright policy. While it states that the student is the copyright holder of the thesis or dissertation, it also stipulates, “as a condition of engaging in graduate study in the university, [that] the author of a thesis grants certain licences and waivers with respect to the circulation and copying of the thesis.” These licenses are for the university library, naturally, but there’s also one for Library & Archives Canada (LAC), to which the dissertation author grants “a licence to microfilm the thesis under carefully specified conditions” (7).

I didn’t read the fine print of the university’s copyright policy for graduate students, but before I defended, my supervisor made a point of advising me to treat and protect the work as my scholarly capital. And it was in this work that I began researching copyright. So I think I would remember if I was ever briefed on the “carefully specified conditions” of the LAC’s license. I wasn’t.

Canada's Fortress of Knowledgtude. LAC photo CC-licensed from Padraic Ryan.

The LAC cover on my dissertation in the ProQuest database informs me, however, that I (“the author”) have

granted a non-exclusive license allowing Library and Archives Canada to reproduce, publish, archive, preserve, conserve, communicate to the public by telecommunication or on the Internet, loan, distribute and sell theses worldwide, for commercial or non-commercial purposes, in microform, paper, electronic and/or any other formats.

The cover also assures me that – while LAC has just said it can basically do whatever it wants with the work – “the author retains copyright ownership and moral rights in this thesis.”

Now, most of this I don’t object to, in principle. I’m fully on board with archiving and preserving. I support LAC as a vital institution serving Canadians’ public interest. And I’m all for open access – not that the ProQuest database itself is open access (though it does make more research more accessible). But I do object to the LAC’s unclearly-got license to sell my work internationally and distribute it “for commercial purposes” – like, say, to this ProQuest database, whose own bottom line the dissertation now gets to gild, with neither my informed consent nor share in any profits.

Not that I would expect the work to yield much of anything in that way. It’s a dissertation, after all – it’s not even a book. (Which suggests an implication for graduates who, unlike Yours Truly, might want to turn their dissertations into books: does ProQuest database availability compromise publish-ability?)

What I object to is the commercial latitude of the LAC’s license, and the opacity of the university policy about this license. None of the protocols of depositing the dissertation with the university involved any “careful specification” of the license I apparently gave to Library & Archives Canada to sell my work.

Work Cited
Graduate Student Calendar. U of Guelph, 2012.

Copyright course review: Bill C-11, fair dealing, and the meaning of research

Bill Burris. "Rutherford South." 2007. CC2.0 licensed.

The weekend before last, I attended an intensive, one-weekend, one-credit course at the U of Alberta’s School of Library and Information Studies. U of A sessional (and retired City Librarian at Vancouver Public Library) Paul Whitney taught the class, and did a fantastic job (he also swore us to the confidentiality of a safe classroom space, which I’ll try to respect in my remarks here). The course was, among other things, a great motivator for reading a number of pivotal texts, especially:

  • Canada’s Copyright Act;
  • its proposed amendment, Bill C-11;
  • the Supreme Court decision in “the CCH case” (which established Canada’s educational fair dealing precedent);
  • and “the Hargreaves report” — an independent report commissioned by the British government, which had no sooner rammed through its Digital Economy Act than Google’s CEOs publicly embarrassed Cameron, by stating Google couldn’t have been launched in the UK under an Act like it.

I won’t lie, reading thirty-page laws in the original legalese was not fun. However, with it completed, reading the Supreme Court decision was totally engrossing: a thoroughly reasoned argument that ended up clarifying a lot about not just the CCH case but the law itself. The Hargreaves report is absorbing, too — in large part as an excellent example of how to talk to a neoliberal government about the public interest (hint: mention “economic growth” a lot).

A good bit of our class time was devoted to a collective close reading of the Copyright Act and Bill C-11. It probably doesn’t sound more fun than reading the laws alone in private, but it was. We got into involved discussions of legal points big and small, and discovered bits of the Act and Bill C-11 I hadn’t been hearing about in the blogosphere or news media. Bits like the Act’s provision to review the legislation in five years. Or like Section 41.21, which (as we discussed at some length) empowers the government to draft supplementary regulations (i.e. ones that don’t require House approval) on how to apply specific sections of the Act — in this case, the controversial section on TPMs. Sec. 41.21 reflects what’s happened in the USA, where fair-use exemptions to the DMCA’s TPM protections have been introduced (e.g. for class screenings in film studies programs). What a section like this does is empower the specific governing body to introduce such an exemption without needing to get amendment-level approval by the legislature. However, while the section leaves some specific exemption options open to the government, it was suggested in the class that any such potential exemptions would likely be very tightly controlled, and applied to very specifically defined types of fair dealing.

Still, reading the bill closely, in the context of related issues — from global IP treaties to local issues like Access Copyright — I found myself coming to a most unexpected breakthrough, of sorts: a greater appreciation for Bill C-11. I won’t go so far as to give C-11 a glowing endorsement or anything, but the course helped to put the bill’s TPM protections into perspective, offering some “little glimmers of hope,” as the instructor put it, to offset the gloom of the TPM provisions. The course offered this and other reminders that C-11, in fact, represents one of the most progressive pieces of copyright legislation introduced in the modern developed world; as the instructor put it, C-11 is

the only western legislation making provisions for the everyday, non-infringing copying practices of users.

These provisions may not go quite as far as the extensive and flexible protections afforded Americans under their fair use law, but neither is C-11 all that far behind — fair use being one specific point of US law that I wouldn’t mind seeing Canada try to emulate. (That doesn’t go for the rest of US law, naturally. I still don’t want Canada to become a prison- and petrothug-based economy. And new IP legislation emerging in the USA — the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), the Commercial Felony Streaming Act — doesn’t look anything but draconian either — SOPA stands to interfere with the very structure of the Internet.)

As Paul mentioned more than once, like a mantra: “copyright legislation is usually best on the day it’s introduced.” By which he meant that by the time a bill like this becomes law, the lobbyists and special interests have got their MP representatives to gut it of its progressive, public-interest provisions. So there is cause to receive the Heritage Minister’s vow to pass the bill unchanged by Christmas 2011 as a promise as well as a threat; if he’s not fielding any further public consultations, the same better go for private ones too.

The “glimmers of hope” mentioned here don’t change the basic and urgent criticism that the TPM or “digital lock” provisions go further than necessary to observe Canada’s WIPO obligations, and too far in compromising the otherwise excellent fair dealing provisions (as many more influential voices than mine have pointed out). But these glimmers of hope do augment my perspective on how the digital locks provisions may or may not be enforced, and whether or not these provisions will in practice trump educational fair dealing — given how robustly fair dealing has already been enshrined by the CCH decision. What concerns me, amid the dim light of such glimmers, is the possibility that supplementary regulations would be restricted more to educators than made available to the general public. If so, such regulations could widen rather than close the gap of access, license, and therefore of power between educators and everyday users. The uncertain and uneven implications of the TPM protections in C-11 thus demand (in my admittedly limited understanding) not a closing of the proverbial ivory tower’s gates to enjoy in private any supplementarily permitted liberties, but rather a renewed commitment to pursue and expand the public interest mandate of public education in Canada. Perhaps fostering more critical cultural legal studies, of the kind advanced by Humanities and legal scholars like Rosemary Coombe and Paul Saint-Amour, would be a start:

Coombe, in her powerful study The Cultural Life of Intellectual Properties: Authorship, Appropriation, and the Law (1998), calls for a new interdisciplinary approach she calls a “Critical Cultural Legal Studies”: a synthesis that brings the socially, politically, and ethically contextualizing energies of cultural studies to bear on legal discourse, while at the same time insisting on both the inescapably political and contingent nature of the law […] and legal theory’s responsibility to the actual social relations and lifeworlds of those whom the law governs. (Saint-Amour 19)

As Saint-Amour notes, “intellectual property law has a low tolerance for practices that criticize or parody its basic tenets,” but it is perhaps in such practices that the most effective methods for Critical Cultural Legal Studies might obtain: “practices it [copyright law] recodes, belittles, and criminalizes as piracy and infringement” (19). Whether in a more traditionally scholarly guise, or in more radical and populist interventions (think of Negativland, the KLF), the pursuit and promotion of Critical Cultural Legal Studies might represent a productive start towards increasing the awareness of students and the public about how profoundly copyright (a formerly very specialized law) stands to affect the everyday life of ubiquitous computing (which means ubiquitous copying) in the twenty-first century. If the Supreme Court’s CCH decision clearly gives research a “large and liberal” interpretation, this interpretation should be understood as not just a protection afforded educational institutions, but one available to any and all Canadian citizens involved in “private study or research.”

What, then, does a liberal — and what might a radical — interpretation of research mean?

Works Cited

Saint-Amour, Paul K. The Copywrights: Intellectual Property and the Literary Imagination. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2003.

Whitney, Paul. Copyright Workshop for Information Professionals [one-credit course]. School of Library and Information Studies, U of Alberta, 22-24 Oct. 2011.

Uploading to Youtube: “derivative work” or “public display”?

Browsing the OER Commons for course content, I found some introductory videos, in Quicktime format, about the Harlem Renaissance, licensable for educational use.

Experimentally, I uploaded one to the Landing (AU’s social network), to see if it would play in that network’s default media player (Flowplayer). It wouldn’t. A subsequent Landing discussion about the tech trouble has led me to consider Youtube as a technical workaround: if the Quicktime video won’t play in the Landing, a Youtube version of it will.

But anything involving Youtube and third-party content involves legal as well as technical questions. The question here is whether uploading to Youtube a video used under Creative Commons-type  licensing (specifically, a Teachersdomain.org “Download and Share” license) is okay or not.

The license wording seems ambiguous on the question of Youtube uploading, and in need of interpretation. On one hand, the license expressly forbids “derivative works”: you may not make “a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which the Work may be recast, transformed, or adapted.” Uploading this video to Youtube means transforming — or, arguably, translating — the work from Quicktime format to flash-video format. However, the vocabulary and context of the license language here seems to suggest not technical but creative transformation.

So on the other hand, provided the use is for educational purposes only, the license does allow you to “distribute, publicly display, publicly perform (digitally or otherwise) the Work (as long as it is properly acknowledged and attributed).” This language seems less ambiguous: it does permit public, digital display. That seems to speak to what Youtube is about.

I’m not a legal expert, so I’m inclined to err on the side of caution here. But given how new Creative Commons-type licensing is, and how clear and robust fair use is (the content is USA-made), I find it an interesting case to consider on the matter of educational-use repurposing.

Cross-blogged from the AU Landing