Sunday, February 03, 2008

Murray and Trosow on Canadian Copyright - A "Must" for educators and librarians

There is a very useful new book entitled Canadian Copyright on Canadian copyright published late in 2007 that I really ought to have mentioned earlier, but I’ve been very busy lately with litigation, some of which readers will have heard about.

Laura Murray, a professor of English Literature at Queen's and Sam Trosow, a law professor at Western, have jointly written a very fine little book of major importance that will appeal to and be indispensable to a broad spectrum of those who are concerned about Canadian copyright law and policy. Indeed, its subtitle is "A Citizen's Guide." Murray’s ability to communicate with a non-legal audience and Trosow’s knowledge of both Canadian and American copyright law (together with his professional qualifications as a librarian) are a potent combination and the result is very positive.

This book takes a stand on issues where taking a stand is necessary and inevitable, such as CMEC’s proposed special exception for educational use of the internet (pp. 124-125). But it also provides basically accurate and useful analysis and references. It is quite up to date - at least to the middle of last year. There is no reference to the Euro v. Kraft decision of the Supreme Court which was released on July 26, 2007 - but that’s not too serious given the main audience for this book, which will be the educational community in the largest sense but not necessarily the business community. Besides, I imagine that the book was probably well into production by July 26, 2007.

The book is eminently readable, which is unusual for any quality book about copyright law. It has a very useful index and bibliography. And I’m honoured to have been mentioned in this work including in the credits.

And it even has some good cartoons. It also has some box summaries of key cases, which are useful for non-experts.

This book is by far the most useful and reliable publication now available on basic legal and policy issues of importance aimed at the thousands of students, educators, librarians, teachers and academics across Canada who need to deal with copyright on a day to day basis. It is not excessively cautious in its approach. Unlike certain other previous publications aimed at such a general audience, it assumes a reasonable degree of intelligence and responsibility on the part of its readers, who will benefit from learning about how to use copyright law to their advantage. It provides a reasonable degree of detail about key recent legal cases, and even provides a quick guide on how to find Canadian and American case law.

It is a welcome antidote to and replacement for certain previous publications aimed at non-lawyers, which tended to be excessively cautious and risk averse to the point where teachers and librarians, for example, who rely on such publications too literally, might be unable to do their job as well as they could and should.

For example, a publication that is apparently oblivious to the empowering possibilities of the CCH v. LSUC decision does not help teachers and librarians to be more effective in their work.

By way of another example, I’ve previously written about how SFU has seriously misinformed its graduate students on copyright issues pertaining to their theses and pointed them in turn to a publication that contained serious errors of omission in terms of case law at the time when it was published, but which SFU describes as “"the indispensable guide for publishers, web professionals, writers, artists, filmmakers, teachers, librarians, archivists, curators, lawyers and business people."

Murray and Trosow have now gone beyond these problematic past approaches. Even experienced copyright lawyers will find this book to be interesting and useful in the policy context. While not as comprehensive or authoritative for legal research or litigation citation purposes as David Vaver’s 2000 publication, it is more up to date and has potentially a much broader audience. It will also be more useful than Vaver’s book in many respects in terms of dealing with the forthcoming wars over the new legislation.

One suggestion for the next edition - which I hope to see after the dust has settled someday on the expected new legislation - would be expanded treatment of collectives and the Copyright Board. Of course, one of the ironies of Canadian collectives and the Board is that there is little opportunity for "citizen" participation. The collectives are generally not very democratic or transparent. And meaningful participation in Copyright Board hearings is normally very expensive and time consuming.

Frankly, the major educational and library advocacy entities involved in copyright reform and policy should be distributing this book in quantities to their staff and bringing it to the attention of their many ultimate members, i.e. working professionals. These entities include ACCC, AUCC, CAUT, CLA, CARL, and last, but not least, CMEC.

The publisher is missing a great opportunity if it does not actively bring this book to the attention of the thousands of students, teachers (at all levels), school board officials, civil servants and librarians who could immediately benefit from it. But, thankfully, Amazon steps at least partially into the breach and the book is available here at discounted price of $15.72.

A bargain at several times the price.


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