Tuesday, August 17, 2010

TorStar on copyright and the universities

Toronto Star has a perceptive editorial on the copyright bill and the folly of authorizing big educational institutions to appropriate copyrighted work without payment or permission.

Many historians and history students identify themselves with their academic employers and calculate that this free ride for the boss may mean more for themselves. They stand with Conservative cabinet minister James Moore, theorizing that copyright appropriation, being "good for education," will be good for them. Even CAUT is doing company unionism here, supporting what it takes to be a freebie for the employers.

But piracy is a bad thing even when practised by universities and school boards. And the idea that academic institutions have the right to freebies, a right to appropriate the knowledge of scholars and intellectuals, is a dangerous and pernicious one in any case. Universities increasingly want to argue they own the teaching of their professors and graduate students: when they videotape that lecture, they want to presume they can replay it forever, perhaps thereby dispensing with the services of a real employed lecturers.  They want to maximize their use of vulnerable adjunct faculty and sessionals, who will do more classroom hours per dollar while providing un- or under-paid research and scholarship in hopes of snagging an elusive tenure-track position. These efforts to transfer to others the cost of  the knowledge base that universities then monetize are all steps in the proletarianization of the faculty (a rather comfortable proletariat, sure, but still...)

Appropriating the published work of historians(employed by universities or not) is a long step in that direction. For the sake of their own scholarly independence, academic scholars ought to be resisting not supporting it.

Update, August 20: Mikael Christensen writes:
I'm a recent addition to your corner of the internets, and feel the need to point out some issues I had with the posting regarding the Toronto Star's editorial on copyright revision. Specifically, why the Star seems so upset about the provision for education copying. Just a tease for the rest of the letter, it's got nothing to do with adjunct faculty or universities owning ever more IP rights of their professors work. That's what you as I assume an academic are projecting onto them. [Not an academic, Mikael, just a writer -- Chris] What I believe very strongly to be the true nature of the Star's objection is the revenue that comes from http://pagesofthepast.ca/Default.asp, the online archives of the Star. Newspapers are as I expect you know facing dramatically shrinking revenues, and something like historical archives that most universities and school boards will pay for licensing rights to, will help stem the tide of losses. So it's not academic altruism, a quest to right the wrongs of out of control universities, it's another newspaper watching out for itself. But hey, there's no reason you cant hang your hat over that reason and appropriate it for yourself. I know lots of historians that do that to this day, we just don't treat them as very professional.
Follow @CmedMoore