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Book Launch For The Encouragement of Learning: the Origins of Canadian Copyright Law, by Myra Tawfik

Khadija Shamisa, Dual 2L, Windsor Law and Detroit Mercy Law

Professor Myra Tawfik is the Don Rodzik Family Chair in Law and Entrepreneurship at the University of Windsor. On September 22, 2023, we came together to celebrate the launch of her book: For the Encouragement of Learning: The Origins of Canadian Copyright Law.

The celebration of Professor Myra Tawfik’s book was a warm event. Faculty, students, and family members joined Windsor Law LTEC Lab in person and virtually at the EpiCentre for this festive occasion.

[Professor Tawfik holding a physical copy of her book]

Dr. Pascale Chapdelaine, Director of LTEC Lab and Associate Professor at Windsor Law kicked off the event by welcoming the audience. She introduced the book by characterizing it as imposing and accessible. It is imposing because of its breadth, and because it elegantly marries book history and copyright law. Through this powerful combination, the book uncovers periods of Canadian copyright history that have not been explored before. Second, the book is accessible. It is captivating and reads like a novel, making it well written for audiences outside of copyright specialists or historians. As a Quebecer and as a copyright scholar, the book touches Professor Chapdelaine deeply because it widened her understanding of the history of her native Québec (then Lower Canada) that she did not know even existed.

After Professor Chapdelaine’s remarks, Dr. Xavier continued the introduction. Dr. Xavier, the Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Studies at Windsor Law, called this the perfect time for the book to launch: Windsor law is undergoing a renewal process marked by the opening of the new law building. He calls the book “a bold and innovative approach” to the history of copyright law in Canada. Further, he applauds it for being “accessible, and well-written for Canadian historians, while also serving a broader audience”.

Professor Myra Tawfik’s commentary followed. Tawfik has always been interested in copyright history, however, she noticed that there were major contradictions in the sources of copyright law. Some claimed that Canadian copyright law came from British history, while others claimed French or American history, and some said it had no history at all. Legal records were silent on the topic. Thus, she embarked on her eighteen-year search to dig up forgotten archives and uncover the origins of copyright law in Canada.

The book took eighteen years to write, comprising more than half of Tawfik’s academic career. She describes the book as an exploration of the emergence of copyright law in Canada, tracing both the first statutes and the larger context in which copyright originated in Canada. It uses copyright registration data and tells stories of the people who influenced the origins of copyright law in the country.

She is grateful for the massive digitization of archives, which has enabled her to finish this research in a faster, more efficient way than would have ever been possible had she needed to travel to read physical archives.

Tawfik says that once she broadened her scope outside of legal research, a rich picture evolved. Compelling stories emerged about individuals who cared deeply about the society they were building. These individuals were invested deeply in the formation of Canada’s cultural identity and petitioned the legislature for financial support to print their schoolbooks. As a result, Tawfik no longer looks at copyright law outside of its socio-economic and cultural contexts. She says, “Once I stepped outside the bounds of traditional legal research, an enriching multi-disciplinary adventure began and culminated in this book”. Today, this culmination became a book with a history of its own.

The commentary from our discussants followed Professor Tawfik’s introduction. Ysolde Gendreau is full Professor at Université de Montreal, and Vice-President of ALAI.

[From left to right: Professor Spoo, Professor Gendreau, Professor Tawfik, and Professor Chapdelaine.]

Professor Gendreau began the commentary. She calls Tawfik’s research “amazing” and her writing “tremendous.” Gendreau emphasizes that readers can open the book at any page and want to continue because the storytelling is so engaging. The book recounts lively stories of the people who played various roles in the history of copyright law. For this, Gendreau comments, a movie could be made about this work.

She mentions that there are two important aspects of this book. The first is its historical significance for the Canadian understanding. Although many Canadians believe pre-confederation Canada to be a time of general inactivity, this book tells a different story. It gives a sense that Canada, as a colony, wanted to be responsible for its own fate. Gendreau argues this understanding is a tremendous contribution to the general history of Canada. Despite being a book about copyright history, its message is quite contemporary. Canadians today are here as the outcome of our historical, geographical, and social elements, which all inform our current positioning on copyright issues.

Gendreau explains that the second importance of this book is its title: “For the Encouragement of Learning”. Historically, the encouragement of learning aimed to publish protected books so students could receive a basic education in the Lower and Upper Canadian colonies. However, we learn that the encouragement of learning is not the sole purpose of the Copyright Act. In fact, copyright does not have a sole purpose; rather, it is a meeting place of many stakeholders. These stakeholders include the industry, both male and female authors, and the public who may have different attitudes about copyright itself.

Gendreau would recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about Canadian history. She thanks Tawfik for accomplishing a work that gives much new information while being so easily readable.

[Richard Spoo addresses the physical and virtual audience at the EpiCentre]

Robert Spoo then shares his appreciation of the book with the audience. Professor Spoo is an Associate Dean for Faculty Development and Chapman Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Tulsa College of Law. Spoo begins by stating this book has been an investment with great return. The fact that Tawfik’s work took nearly twenty years to complete is because it was so deeply dependent on archival work.

Legal scholars often write about intellectual property doctrine, copyright rules, and decisions that change the landscape. However, they don’t often get deeply involved in the underlying history of these developments. Consequently, there is a disembodied quality to the abstract teachings of legal scholars. What Professor Tawfik has done is to reembody the law in history and into the lived experiences of those who were working to achieve results in copyright law.

What does the encouragement of learning mean? It is an incentive created by the law to stimulate the production of educational works in exchange for the property right to protect it. The encouragement of learning begins with the belief that people would write more if they could protect a property right in their writing. Further, they would be less likely to write if their writing could be copied widely and easily. This created a “symbiotic” promise; the law would grant a property right that can be monetized, but to get it, writers must produce learning.

Spoo believes that this book details the tale of three countries: Canada, Britain, and the United States. Professor Tawfik centers this story around Canada’s position, wedged uncomfortably between the ongoing copyright “drama” between Britain and the United States.

In 1842, Britain enacted a massive and controversial copyright legislation, protecting British authors robustly. However, at this time, the United States did not recognize the copyrights of foreign authors. This encouraged lawful piracy in the United States. Americans began to reprint many British novels, treatises and other works despite the law, resulting in a mass of affordable reprinted British literature to seep into Canada. So, when the statute was passed, Canada used tariffs, customs, and confiscation to limit the import of such reprinted works.

Since British works were so expensive, and the library-like subscription system of borrowing books was not yet present in Canada, Canada was stripped of access to British culture. Given the climate, Canadians wondered how they would give their readership access to affordable books from Britain. One answer was to benefit from American piracy. However, the 1842 Act clamped down on this harshly, and so the next solution was compulsory licencing. Compulsory licencing is statute-imposed royalty payments onto those who wanted to reprint British works. Essentially, British works could be reprinted without the author’s permission in exchange for the payment of a royalty fee. Unfortunately, this solution was struck down because Britain saw it as an attack on their authors. In this context, Professor Tawfik tells a story of Canadian colonial defiance, as Canadians struggled to bring British culture into the country.

A notable and unintended consequence of this struggle was the rise of American political ideology into Canada. Since access to British culture became limited for Canadians, American culture replaced it, fostering raw, democratic principles into the minds of Canadians.

This book does not only enhance our general and specific understanding of Canadian copyright law and American printing culture, it is also a wonderful contribution to “law and literature.” It fulfils the great goal of law and literature to infuse the law with the humanities.

In sum, Professor Tawfik’s book is a terrific interdisciplinary contribution to the law, law and literature, and Canada at large.

[The book can be found at the Don & Gail Rodzik Law Library]

The book launch closed with a question period from audience members.

A law student began by asking what law students should take away from this book. Professor Tawfik advises students that you can never fully understand the law without looking beyond the four corners of what schools teach you. She states, “The law is part of our social fabric and does not stand outside of it”. Further, she emphasizes all students to “follow your heart and stick to what you believe in.”

Omar Hamed, a Dual 2L at Windsor Law and Detroit Mercy Law, was personally inspired by Professor Tawfik’s work. He comments, “It is truly fascinating to explore the unique origins of Canadian copyright laws, as well as the inspiring story of Professor Tawfik’s journey in writing her new book. Research can often be challenging, but her dedication is admirable to say the least!”

Congratulations to Professor Tawfik for her wonderful, hard-earned contribution and thank you to all who attended our event.

The book can be found at the Don & Gail Rodzik Law Library. For those interested in purchasing the book, email LTEC Lab and follow us on X to receive a discount code!

(Email: X: @LTECLabWindsor)

A recording of the event can be found on LTEC Lab Website.


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