And advice from up north

When I first heard that the Canadian Association of University Teachers had approved an intellectual property advisory for faculty authors encouraging them to retain copyright in their published academic articles (hat tip to Heather Morrison), I was delighted and planned to post an enthusiastic plug for the short document in this space. I still am excited by the decision of CAUT, but another recent event has provided a sense of context that I think helps show how urgent the advice given by this Canadian counterpart of the Association of American University Professors is.

William Patry is a well-known copyright practitioner and scholar; it is hard to imagine a more distinguished resume for someone wanting to comment on copyright law today. His copyright blog has been a valuable source for me, often cited here, of interesting information and thoughtful reflection. So I owe Bill a lot of gratitude for the work he has done over the past four years, and am deeply saddened by his decision to give up his blog.

Patry gives two reasons for the decision to stop sharing his learning and insight in this format. First, he is finding that it is increasingly difficult to get others to understand that his blog is an expression of personal opinions and not those of his current employer. Second, he says that the state of copyright law has simply made it to depressing to constantly be the bearer of bad news. As he eloquently expresses the current state of things,

Copyright law has abandoned its reason for being: to encourage learning and the creation of new works. Instead, its principal functions now are to preserve existing failed business models, to suppress new business models and technologies, and to obtain, if possible, enormous windfall profits.

This analysis seems discouragingly correct to me, but it also reminds me that, in the small corner of the copyright world that is scholarship, there is something we can do to alleviate this problem. And the Canadian Association of University Teachers have clearly told us what that something is — retain copyright.

In its intellectual property advisory CAUT expresses concisely both the problem:

Without copyright ownership, academic staff can lose control of their own work and
may no longer be entitled to email it to students and colleagues, post it on a personal or
course web page, place it in an institutional repository, publish it in an open access journal
or include it in a subsequent compilation.

and the solution:

Journals require only your permission to publish an article, not a wholesale transfer
of the full copyright interest. To promote scholarly communication, autonomy, integrity
and academic freedom, and education and research activities more generally, it is
important for academic staff to retain copyright in their journal articles.

CAUT offers us a way out of the increasingly suffocating dilemma regarding copyright in which academia finds itself. We must hope that US educational groups and institutions of higher education will follow suit, and that individual faculty will continue to assert their rights as the original copyright holders in their scholarly writings.

In the meanwhile, a heartfelt thank you to Bill Patry for sharing his wisdom with us.