Western preparing for new copyright landscape

By Jason Winders
November 14, 2013

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Don’t call Tom Adam ‘the copyright police.’

This fall, Adam was named project manager and special advisor to the provost on copyright. His job focuses on enhancing ‘copyright literacy’ across campus – especially among faculty and graduate students – as the university’s current deal with Access Copyright nears expiration.

Western and Access Copyright, a not-for-profit organization representing copyright owners, continue to discuss the terms of an extension to the current deal that runs out at year’s end. Simultaneously, the university must make plans in case a deal never materializes. 

Enter Adam – the university’s official copyright educator, facilitator and champion. But he’s no enforcer.

“Oh no, it is not my job to go out and shake the finger at someone. Engaging the community, that is foundational to what I am doing,” said Adam, whose temporary appointment runs until December 2014. “Copyright needs to be part of the conversation whenever we talk about using the work of someone else. My job is to make sure it is part of the conversation.

“The copyright law is not exactly intuitive. I am someone to help you walk through the process.”

Adam, BA’79 (Visual Arts), MLIS’93, has been with Western Libraries for 30 years. He started as a library assistant, while simultaneously working his way toward a degree over five years. When he graduated, Adam joined the D.B. Weldon Library full-time as a librarian in the Reference Department. There, he aided the library in its teaching mission helping students develop “information literacy.”

“Access. Assess. Assimilate. Apply. That’s what we taught,” Adam said. “We were turning out ‘straight-A students’ at Western in terms of information literacy.”

He continued in the role, teaching undergraduate and graduate students alike, eventually being named a teaching and learning librarian until assuming his new role this fall.

“(This job is) a further step along the road I have already been traveling for 30 years,” Adam said. “We’re just talking about the responsible use of information and making sure the Western community has the tools and resources they need to make informed decisions about ‘the stuff’ they use in their teaching and research.”

In June, Western officials gave notice to Access Copyright the university would not be extending its current agreement with the not-for-profit organization representing copyright owners, after the deal expires on Dec. 31. That move all but ended the relationship with the company.

The copyright landscape has changed drastically since the deal was first struck 16 months ago.

The Supreme Court of Canada handed down a series of copyright and technology-related rulings in June 2012, including, most interestingly for education institutions, one that erased the distinction between student and instructor copying of copyrighted work. Previously, only student copying was considered fair use.

Also, the Copyright Modernization Act (Bill C-11), which passed on June 29, 2012, expanded the definition of ‘fair dealing’ to include education alongside research, private study, criticism and review. That means educational entities are not tied to the strict royalty landscape for use of materials for educational purposes.

Western’s future copyright landscape has yet to form fully. If an extension with Access Copyright never materializes, the university is eyeing a University of Toronto model as a possible blueprint. That model rotates around four basic questions: Is the work protected by copyright (mainly about the age of the document)? Do you have licensed permission? Are you using a ‘substantial’ portion of the work (although the word ‘substantial’ is not explicitly defined)? Does the law sanction its use?

Tasked with shaping this new landscape for Western is a copyright working group, which includes Adam, as well as representatives from Western Libraries, The Book Store at Western, ITS, Teaching and Learning Services, Communications and Public Affairs, University of Western Ontario Faculty Association (UWOFA), Legal Services and the Office of the Provost.

The group is still seeking advice from “interested parties” on campus – copyright experts, student and faculty groups. But the clock is ticking.

“What we’re seeking is an ‘institutional response’ to the law,” Adam said. “We’re not rewriting it. What the project is doing is determining how we are going to respond to it. What are our obligations and accountabilities?”

As soon as the landscape is defined, Adam said, step one is getting copyright-related resources together in an easy-to-use, easy-to-understand, one-stop-shop format. Not a simple task, he admitted, although three specific milestones will guide the effort over the next year or so.

First, copyright resources and services – mainly via a website – will be in place by late December or early January. Adam then plans an aggressive education campaign via workshops and information sessions to run through the Winter Term. Finally, a sustainability plan will be developed to make sure the information stays current to legislation as well as issues specific to Western’s campus.

“My goal is nobody ever comes up with a dead end,” Adam said. “If the website doesn’t answer your question, there is a number or an email or somebody who can give you can answer to your question.”

He only asks one thing from the university community today: patience.

“We want to make sure we turn out responsible stewards of information in our students,” he said. “To do that, we have to be responsible ourselves.”























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