Protecting Education Quality Through Copyright Law

On April 24, 2018, the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations presented to the federal government's Industry, Science and Technology Committee to defend the interest of students during their review of the Copyright Act. Students already pay plenty for textbooks and academic articles, and taking away the copyright exception for education would just put more cost on students and hurt the quality of our education in Canada! In this presentation, we also cover the topic of open educational resources (OERs), the Copyright Board, and Access Copyright.



You can also listen to the full audio from the April 24, 2018 committee meeting, which includes presentations by and a Q&A session among ourselves, the Canadian Association of Research Libraries, the Canadian Research Knowledge Network, and the Union des écrivaines et des écrivains québécois.


A transcript of CASA's presentation is available below:


Good evening Mr. Chair, esteemed committee members, fellow witnesses, and members of the gallery.


My name is Michael McDonald, and I am the Executive Director of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, or CASA.


CASA is a non-partisan organization that represents over 250,000 students at colleges, universities, and polytechnics across the country. We advocate for a post-secondary system that is accessible, affordable, innovative and of the highest quality.

Thank you for the invitation to speak to you today about the Copyright Act. Copyright law has a profound impact on students in Canada, and we believe this statutory review presents an excellent opportunity to reflect on what has worked and to address what has not.


Students purchase, study, and create Copyrighted material daily. It will surprise no one in this hearing to learn that students are seeing the rapid shift towards digital content delivery and the adoption of new learning tools first hand. For example, Open Access journals are ensuring that more content is available freely than ever before. In many academic fields, including STEM, these journals are now becoming the primary way through which new research is shared.


Open Educational Resources are also reshaping the academic materials landscape. These high quality, open-source materials allow for content, such as textbooks, to be made available to students and educators for free. Such materials have immense potential to be adapted to meet the needs of diverse students. British Columbia and Ontario have already committed to providing funding for the creation of OER textbooks, and the savings students have seen from these programs is growing by the day.

Both Open Access and Open Educational Resources are modern innovations whose returns to students in both cost savings and quality improvements are only just being realized. While outside of the Copyright Act itself, we believe it is crucial to understand what educational content will look like in the years to come when reviewing the act and the arguments presented here today. They also present valuable opportunities for the federal government to foster innovation in learning.

A further facet of the modern learning environment has been fair dealing. The official inclusion of education as a component of fair dealing in 2012 clarified the rights articulated by the Supreme Court. While this right has helped reduce some of the transactional costs associated with accessing content for students, we think it is important to give special attention to how fair dealing has improved the quality of the education provided here in Canada.


The inclusion of education as a component of fair dealing creates a mechanism that facilitates the legitimate exchange of small amounts of information. This encourages a diversity of sources and perspectives to be used. This can be content delivered by a professor in a classroom, but it can also be through the peer-to-peer learning experiences fostered in study groups or by group presentations. These are the organic teaching moments that are crucial for effective learning.

CASA believes that the fair dealing for education provision of the Copyright Act must remain intact.


We also recommend to the committee that any punishments for bypassing digital lock systems be removed, since these restrict users from exercising their legal rights over the content.

It is critical to note that throughout this era of digital disruption that students, professors and post-secondary institutions continue to purchase academic resources. According to the Household Survey, average household spending on textbooks alone was $656 in 2015 for university texts and $437 for college texts. These expenditures are clear evidence of the continued use and purchase of effective published materials.

This leads us to discuss the Copyright Board. CASA believes that the current regime overseen by the Copyright Board is currently flawed. Transparency, openness to feedback and honesty are values we expect from Facebook, and they are values we should expect from our tariff systems. While post-secondary tariffs are presented as an agreement between rights holders and post-secondary institutions, we believe they leave out the primary consumer of this material: students. Students, either directly through an ancillary fee or indirectly out of operations budgets, pay these tariffs. It is a cost they are expected to bear and one we do not believe is adequately considered.  


CASA believes that any fee assessed on a student must be clearly explained and justified. The Access Copyright fee lacks many of the attributes we expect from any service provider. Firstly, the fee seems to be determined at random. The fee for university students was $45 in 2011-2013, it was adjusted to $35 in 2014-2017, while at the same time on their website it was offered at $26. Students are concerned about what kind of product can have this kind of variability. When attempts were made to understand the reasoning behind these differentiated fees, Access Copyright openly fought the attempt at transparency. As it stands there is no clear rationale as to why these fees apply to all students equally, especially considering the different licensing needs of faculties. We are also extremely concerned the fees Access has proposed in other sectors have been often been found to be much higher than deemed appropriate by the Copyright Board. These are deeply troubling signals and we are calling on the committee to ensure that the Copyright Board provides clear public rationale for why fees exist and to demand public accounting from those who wish to operate tariffs.

CASA hopes that the committee, through its consultations and deliberations, keeps in mind the importance of preserving a flexible, adaptable Copyright system that serves the needs of both creators and users. Students appreciate the committee’s dedicated work on this complex subject, and I look forward to your questions.



The Canadian Alliance of Student Associations advocates for better post-secondary education and aims to improve the lives of students. L'Alliance canadienne des associations étudiantes défend les intérêts des étudiant(e)s.
Is your student association ready to become a member?
Learn More
Protecting Education Quality Through Copyright Law
Protecting Education Quality Through Copyright Law
@CASAACAE unites and amplifies the voices of post-secondary students across Canada. Find out more!