Intellectual property is a legal concept governing the ownership and use of goods created by intellectual labour. Copyright is the intellectual property sub-category that protects expressive “works”, including literary, dramatic, artistic and musical creations.

The Canadian Copyright Act gives copyright owners a bundle of economic rights and to creators a series of moral rights. The Act protects the public interest by limiting the duration of the copyright term, allowing certain exceptions to what would otherwise be infringement and through fair dealing (the right to use works without permission in various circumstances).

As creators and owners of copyright material, such as essays, articles, theses and multi-media productions, students need to protect their work from unjust appropriation. But to study, research, write and create new knowledge, students also need access, at a reasonable cost, to the copyrighted works of others.

In 2012, the federal government passed Bill C-11, a bill to amend the Copyright Act, which included new provisions affecting post-secondary institutions and fair dealing. An analysis of the bill’s impact can be read here.

Access Copyright

Access Copyright is a copyright collective that collects revenues from businesses, government agencies, schools, libraries and other users for the rights to photocopy print works or access copyrighted material. However, Access Copyright has received criticism from copyright experts, academics, lawyers and students for its questionable business practices and lobbying efforts.

Before the start of the 2012-2013 academic year, many post-secondary institutions in Ontario heard the call from students and faculty by not renewing licensing agreements with Access Copyright. Several institutions, however, did sign agreements despite recent federal copyright reform affecting post-secondary institutions and fair dealing, as well as a Supreme Court ruling against Access Copyright regarding the use of copyrighted material in Canadian classrooms. The academic community has continued to employ alternative ways of accessing, creating and sharing works though means like open access publishing, fair dealing and direct licensing with publishers.

Open Access

Scholarly publishing, in the form of journal articles, conference proceedings, and monographs, is the primary means by which peer-reviewed knowledge is disseminated to professors, researchers, students and the public. While the proliferation of research has encouraged a rapid increase in the number of scholarly journals and articles, the capacity of academic institutions to afford scholarly publications has declined. Addressing the crisis in scholarly publishing will require significant changes to the existing system. Students, librarians and researchers all agree that workable solutions must include a strong peer-review process, be cost effective and allow for reliable archiving.

“Open Access” refers to a way of making material available on the Internet for anyone to read and use free of charge. For example, by using Creative Commons licenses and Open Access repositories, access to and redistribution of scholarly materials without a user fee becomes possible. Under an Open Access model, users have the ability to access, copy and redistribute original works at no additional cost and creators are still able to require attribution to mitigate commercial use. Open Access distributors provide the information and articles they distribute at no cost to the user.

The Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario endorses the worldwide Open Access Week each October.

Victory – Open Textbook Library

In June 2017, the Ontario government announced the Open Textbook Library, an online platform that will give students access to free educational resources like textbooks and other course materials. This victory for Ontario’s college and university students comes after recommending investments in open educational resources during the 2017 provincial pre-budget consultations.

Textbooks have become an increasing financial burden on students, who sometimes spend thousands of dollars on course materials every year. The Open Textbook Library is a welcome step forward towards making higher education more affordable and accessible, saving students $2.1 million annually.