Instructors, copyright and Canvas: Watch for some changes this summer

March 18, 2014

The way SFU deals with copyright will change this summer in ways that affect instructors who use the Canvas learning management system. Here’s how—and why.

Canada’s Copyright Act has been around since 1921. It was last updated in 2012, in part to address questions related to the increased use of digital and online content.

For universities, one key change was the extension of the “fair dealing” exemption to permit the use of copyright-protected materials for educational purposes under certain conditions.

That’s a good thing because it gives instructors more flexibility in selecting course content. The trade-off is that universities must demonstrate reasonable efforts to familiarize their employees with Canadian copyright requirements and to comply with Canada's Copyright Act.

Don Taylor, SFU’s copyright officer, has spent the last year or so consulting with members of the university community and beyond to develop a practical response to the new conditions. The resulting action plan will be fully implemented as of this summer.

According to Taylor, the plan adds three pieces to the university’s copyright strategy:

  • A new university policy on Copyright Compliance and Administration (R 30.04)
  • Messaging inside Canvas to “remind instructors of the importance of copyright compliance” when they create and publish a course
  • A “copyright provision record-keeping system” to “assess instructors’ level of awareness and knowledge regarding copyright within the context of uploading and using content within Canvas course shells”

What will instructors need to do?

For instructors using Canvas, the most visible result of the new strategy will be the appearance of a message about copyright compliance each time they create or publish a Canvas course.

The other visible change, says Taylor, is that beginning in summer 2014, a “random sample” of Canvas instructors will be asked to complete an online survey near the end of each semester to help the Copyright Office determine “how copyrighted materials are used on campus.” The survey will ask the instructors to provide a citation or description for 10 to 15 files used in the course (for example, PDFs, JPEG images or videos) and to select the “copyright rationale” governing the use of each file from a set of options. The options include choices such as “fair dealing,” “Creative Commons licence” and “item is in the public domain.”

Taylor says the survey will be part of the university’s due diligence under the Copyright Act and SFU’s own copyright policy and will “help us determine where more education or outreach may be required or where there is confusion.

“This is not a compliance monitoring process. We will not be contacting or ‘investigating’ anyone based on their responses; in fact the survey will be anonymous.”

Taylor also notes that instructors won’t be asked to participate in the survey more than once a year. The result, he believes, will be a procedure that minimizes the administrative burden on instructors while maximizing the benefits of the more flexible copyright provisions.

Related links

SFU policy on Copyright Compliance and Administration (R 30.04)

Background document on copyright provision record-keeping survey

Copyright at SFU website

Canada’s Copyright Act

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