Manitoba teachers handed homework by federal court

WINNIPEG — Some Manitoba teachers have been handed extra homework heading into the holiday season – and it’s an assignment that could take many hours to complete.

A federal court has given them the task as part of a Canada-wide legal dispute between provincial ministries of education and creators and publishers over the use of copyrighted material in schools.

The court order requires teachers produce records of the materials used in their classrooms over the past seven years.

Pembina Trails Teachers’ Association president Bob Mauthe said more than 300 teachers he represents working in eight different schools found out about the court order around five weeks ago.

“It could end up to be quite a bit of material for some teachers,” said Mauthe. “It will be the books that they’ve used, the books that they have photocopied pieces out of, parts of magazines, parts of newspapers, reference materials – all that sort of thing that teachers would’ve used to help deliver curriculum to their students.”

The Manitoba government said school divisions across Canada have been selected at random to determine how they use copyrighted material.

The legal dispute in question is between all provincial ministries of education (except BC and Quebec), Ontario school boards and creators and publishers represented by an organization called Access Copyright.

A lawsuit launched by the ministries of education and school boards in February 2018 claims they have overpaid Access Copyright by about $25 million.

Access Copyright filed a statement of defence and a counterclaim stating it’s owed more than $50 million in royalties from 2013 to 2019.

Canada’s copyright law changed in 2012 following new federal legislation and a Supreme Court decision allowing teachers to use copyright-protected works in their classes without having to obtain copyright permission or pay copyright royalties.

Association of Manitoba Book Publishers president Kirsten Phillips, who also works for Portage & Main Press, said artists and publishers have felt the impact.

“We have realized about an 80 per cent drop in revenue,” said Phillips. “Creators are suffering, publishers are not being able to produce the materials that students could be learning and using.”

Mauthe said for some teachers, complying with the court order will mean up to 30 hours of additional work.

“This is another thing that teachers are going to have to do in a very, very, very busy work life already,” he said.

The Manitoba government wouldn’t say exactly how many schools or teachers are affected.

It did stress no school division is being sued — they are just being asked to provide information requested by the court.

The Pembina Trails School Division said to accommodate the court order, additional staff resources are being made available.

It said part-time educators have been offered the opportunity to be paid to do the extra work.



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