Universities to pay fees for eMailing links while faculty inboxes are monitored

One critic called the latest copyright agreement 'inexplicable.'

Sending hyperlinks via eMail could prove a pricey proposition for two Canadian universities after officials agreed to a controversial copyright policy that could also leave professors’ electronic messages open to surveillance.

The University of Western Ontario (UWO) and the University of Toronto (UT) announced in late January that they had come to terms with Access Copyright, a company that has collected fees stemming from faculty members photocopying copyrighted materials and distributes royalties to publishers and content creators.

The schools’ new agreement with Access Copyright would require an annual $27.50 per-student fee for the right to eMail hyperlinks that connect students and educators to copyrighted material – a concession that has drawn ire from at least one UT faculty member.

And in a stipulation that has raised privacy issues among educators at the two Canadian campuses, Access Copyright will require access to eMail accounts of academic staff members to ensure the schools are abiding by the copyright agreements. Access Copyright insists monitoring will “be done in a manner that is automated, anonymous, and protective of the privacy of faculty and students and the academic freedom of faculty.”

Ariel Katz, an associate law professor at UT, said the agreement with Access Copyright had “wide, deep, and long-term implication[s]” and should be “subject to governance approval” by university officials.

Katz wrote in a Feb. 12 blog post that the agreement didn’t get the proper public hearing and will not be revised even after a public outcry.

“… There are worrying signs that the agreement will not get the scrutiny that it deserves,” Katz wrote. “I hope I’m misinterpreting these signs.”

The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) roundly criticized the agreement with Access Copyright, calling the new policy an attack on educators’ electronic privacy just months before Canada’s Supreme Court is expected to clarify how faculty members can use copyrighted works for educational purposes.

“Toronto’s and Western Ontario’s actions are inexplicable,” said James Turk, CAUT executive director. “They have buckled under to Access Copyright’s outrageous and unjustified demands at a time when courts have extended rights to use copyrighted material … and just before the passage of new federal copyright legislation that provides additional protections for the educational sector.”

Cheryl Misak, UT’s provost, said in a statement that the university signed on to the copyright agreement so the school wouldn’t violate basic Canadian copyright laws.

“We believe that this agreement is fair for all the parties – those who create the materials, as well as students who gain access to copyright materials through the university,” Misak said. “This enables, within certain limits, reproduction of copyright material for students’ use without concern for infringing on copyright restrictions.”

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