The Copy Shop and the Cloud

Monday, May 7, 2018

From the chapter on Brazilian universities by Pedro Mizukami and Jhessica Rheia:

In Brazil, debates about access to educational materials in higher education have been dominated for years by disputes about the legal and moral implications surrounding photocopying. Until 1998, Brazilian copyright law permitted anyone to make full, single copies of protected works for personal, not-for-profit use. This limitation on copyright protection anchored a complex web of curricular and student practices that developed in the course of the 1970s and 1980s as photocopiers came into widespread use. When that permission was withdrawn in the copyright reform act of 1998 (Law 9610/98), publishers tried to recapture that part of the market—first by trying to persuade universities to negotiate licenses and later opting for police raids to break the copy culture on university campuses. For the most part, these efforts failed, leaving university copy culture largely unaffected and creating a stalemate on copyright reform that continues to this day. In the meantime, parts of the photocopying ecosystem have shifted online—though publisher enforcement efforts have undercut the emergence of any large-scale shadow libraries to rival the Russian examples from chapter 1.

While parts of the publishing ecosystem have moved toward open access models (in which Brazil has been a leading international force), undergraduate students’ needs are still mostly served by conventionally licensed content and university life continues to rely heavily on infringement as a means for access. Attempts at collective management have failed, and business models for paid online access have—so far—offered debatable value for universities. As students and institutions move toward digital materials and models of access, Brazil is in a transitional period. Copyright law is clearly broken, but the balance of forces between publishers, universities, and state has not yet been able to consolidate around a new regime. The dominant role played by the Brazilian state in educational and scholarly publishing means that access to materials—-more than in many other countries—-is a question for public policy. This role has provided scope for experiments with open access, proposals for alternative compensation models, and other strategies for navigating the transition from print to digital. It also means that, in a period of political instability and ascendency of large business interests, those experiments are unusually vulnerable….

In the end, most Brazilian students can take a basic level of access for granted, whether through book buying or photocopying, via the university library or loaned from a colleague, or downloaded from a shadow library or class Facebook group. Most students will get what they need. Unfortunately, since 1998, most of those strategies have made criminals out of students and faculty, and put universities through contortions as they try to guarantee the basic structure of access to materials for their students. Solving this problem, as we have seen, is not rocket science, but the recent turn in Brazilian politics appears to have put it temporarily out of reach. The question for the future, in Brazil and elsewhere, is not access vs. deprivation, but how and under what terms students will get the materials they need.

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