[discuss] CMEC:COPYRIGHT MATTERS! Some Key Questions and Answers for Teachers, CMEC

Your document "Copyright Matters" provides incorrect and/or misleading
information about the legality of copying certain kinds of software. The
document contains the following passage:

"Can teachers copy computer software for
educational use?
Software is protected under copyright law. It is an infringement
to make copies of any software without permission." [1]

This is a blanket generalization that robs students and teachers of the
opportunity to become technologically literate. By "technologically
literate" I mean capable (in principle) of changing the rules that make
software work as well as just being bound by them. Proprietary, non-free
software forbids this literacy, but free software (such as
OpenOffice.org or the Firefox web browser) allows modification and
redistribution of software by anyone without first seeking the
permission of the copyright holder.

It is *not*, therefore, an infringement to make copies of software, as
long as that software is licensed in a way which explicitly allows such
copies. There are many licenses which give users this freedom. A list of
these licenses can be found on the website of the Free Software
Foundation[2]. The Free Software Foundation sets out the four
fundamental freedoms which must be preserved in order to ensure
participative, socially beneficial technology rather than divisive,
illiteracy-enforcing technology:

1. Users must have the right to use the software for any purpose
2. Users must have the right to study how the software works. Having
access to the source code is a prerequisite for this.
3. Users must have the right to make and distribute verbatim copies of
the software
4. Users must have the right to improve the software, and to share those
improvements with the community at large. [3]

Imagine giving students a tool and telling them "You are *not* allowed
to study how this works, nor are you allowed to improve it and share
your learnings". It is a source of ongoing amazement to me that we
continue to passively accept arbitrary, man-made limitations on learning
and discovery within the very institutions whose mission it is to
educate our citizens.

I strongly urge the Ministers of Education to publicly recognize and
affirm the educational importance of software freedom, to further
recognize that literacy implies the (in principle) ability to write the
rules of technology and that proprietary software forbids this, and to
immediately issue an addendum or correction to "Copyright Matters" which
addresses this glaring and misleading error.

It is vitally important for the public to be assured that our Ministers
of Education are working for the benefit of students and not software

Sydney Weidman
Winnipeg, Manitoba

[1] http://www.cmec.ca/copyright/matters/CopyrightMatters.pdf , page 15
[2] http://www.fsf.org/licensing/licenses/index_html
[3] http://www.fsf.org/licensing/essays/free-sw.html

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