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Intellectual Property, Internet and Higher Ed in BC

Paul Stacey has compiled some good resources on the recent debate around two bills in the United States in his latest blog post:

“The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). SOPA is intended to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods. PIPA is intended to give the US government and copyright holders tools to curb access to “rogue websites dedicated to infringing or counterfeit goods”, especially those registered outside the U.S. These bills are in response to the perceived problem that piracy is having a large negative impact on US content industries.”The bills have been postponed (but are not yet abandoned), likely due to concerted and broad protests from some big and small players online including Wikipedia and Google, and numerous technology blogs and online publications. The implications of the proposed American legislation far exceeded their own borders.

“While all the bills I’ve mentioned so far are US, Canada is not immune to similar activities. Our federal government has been pressured by the US to take stronger stands on enforcing copyright and IP similar to those being taken in the US. In response Canada’s government has taken steps to comply through efforts to update copyright legislation, signing of ACTA, and its willingness to join in the Trans Pacific Partnership. Michael Geist and others have written widely on these developments. See:

I find it disturbing that with all these legislative bills the economic benefits of a few are superceding the public benefits of many. These bills seek to control and limit freedom as is so eloquently expressed in my colleague Scott Leslie’s Short Poem About SOPA.”

“First they came for the file sharers, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a file sharer.

Then they came for the free content creators, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a free content creator.

Then they came for the political activists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a political activist.

Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

In Canada, issues of copyright and intellectual property hit the post-secondary system hard last spring, when

“… Access Copyright submitted to the Copyright Board a Statement of Proposed Royalties to be collected by Access Copyright from post-secondary institutions for the years 2011-2013 for the reprographic reproduction in Canada of works in its repertoire. This statement covered digital copies and proposed a tariff of $45 per student for universities or $35 per student for all other educational institutions. The statement specifies conditions regarding digital copies and details extensive reporting requirements.” (From Paul Stacey’s post on Access Copyright).

As a result, many post-secondary institutions have been withrawing from Access Copyright, focusing on OER as an alternative. The work BCcampus has been doing on promoting OER is gaining more traction. As David Porter has said, “This may be the year that open educational resources become a mainstream alternative.” (See his post here.)

More broadly, the SOPA/PIPA controversy may be signalling a shift to a digital information paradigm. The old IP business model isn’t working, and even if legislation had passed, it would not have stopped digital piracy – just as Access Copyright couldn’t stop photocopying. The very fact that SOPA legislation was written, but now postponed, may mean the shift to “open” is inevitable.

Paul Stacey sums it up this way:

“But for me it’s not just about control and freedom, it’s about optimizing the use of technology. Much of what I see happening is seeking to break or disable technology in order to enforce old business models. I’m dismayed when I see technologies hobbled for economic gain. See Publishers vs. Libraries: An E-Book Tug of War for example. When David Wong says in his brilliantly funny 5 Reasons The Future Will Be Ruled By B.S. that “The future is going to hang on whether or not businesses will be able to convince you to pay money for things you can otherwise get for free.” I’m really hoping he’s wrong. In the digital world the incremental cost of distributing digital goods is next to zero. Creating business models based on artificial scarcity is sheer folly and fails to leverage the innovation that technology and the Internet bring.

If we truly are interested in improving our economies and societies we’d be well served to focus on how we incentivize the production and use of creative works not curtail them. We’d be better off looking at how we maximize access and use not limit it.”

Posted by Tori Klassen