• UM Law Society

E-LEARNING AND COPYRIGHT LAWS: A GROWING CHALLENGE

As schools are forced to shut down due to the pandemic, online learning has become the norm in many countries, including Malaysia. However, this unprecedented shift in education has shed light on not only the digital disparity between students of different socioeconomic backgrounds but also on the lack of accessible academic materials.

Though the issue of communication can be resolved through various video conference apps, students find themselves struggling to obtain legitimate textbooks and academic materials without library access.

Though academic materials are protected under the Copyright Act 1987, we face the issue of the Act being too general about the laws behind the reproduction of copyrighted materials. For example, the Act prohibits ‘making of reproductions of the typographical arrangement of the edition’, but Section 9 (4) states that exceptions can be made for research, private study, criticism, reviewing or reporting of current events. Section 13 gives a list of exceptions to the copyright holder’s exclusive right of control, thus implying that photocopying may be legal, provided no profit is derived and it is under ‘fair dealing’ or ‘fair use’. The issue at hand is that the Act does not actually properly define that ‘fair dealing’ and ‘fair use’ means.

In ‘Candida Höfer Libraries’, an essay by Umberto Eco, Eco illustrates the scenario where if it actually legal to make photocopies in a library for personal use, then are there any laws that prohibit the photocopying of a photocopy? Eco also states that some scientific publishing houses produce books knowing that it will be photocopied, hence the high prices and relatively low print runs are only meant for library purchasing.

The never-ending battle of copyright laws versus university students trying to get by will always face the enigma of balancing what is legal and what is accessible, especially with the restrictions the pandemic has introduced. With the rapid advancement in technology, educators’ concerns with students sharing class materials to outsiders who are not related to the institution tend to lead some to prohibit the recording of lectures which presents an unfavourable situation to students who face Internet connectivity issues.

Current copyright laws which are made before the pandemic must be revised to support present scenarios. Relevant authorities may refer to similar copyright laws such as the Marrakesh Treaty which was adopted by member states of the World Intellectual Property Organisation in 2013 that aims to improve academic accessibility, with an added emphasis on copyright systems and legislation to provides for a legal sharing of printed works.

Undeniably, current circumstances present the question; Is it time to revise copyright policies that may be outdated to suit present scenarios, in pushing for a more student-friendly environment to enhance their learning experience?