Q&A Interview with UTP Author Myra Tawfik

For the Encouragement of Learning addresses the contested history of copyright law in Canada, where the economic and reputational interests of authors and the commercial interests of publishers often conflict with the public interest in access to knowledge. Read our full Q&A with the author, Myra Tawfik, below:

1. Tell us about when the idea for writing this book first came to fruition. Is there a story behind it?

I was teaching copyright law at Windsor Law and, around the 2000s, Canadian courts – especially the Supreme Court of Canada – began to make pronouncements on the foundational origins of our law. Some asserted that our copyright law followed the American legal tradition. Others said that Canada followed the British tradition. Still others stated that our law was an amalgam of American, British, and French law. However, these judicial decisions provided very little support for these claims. In copyright legal theory, it means something different to say that our law is derived from American or British or French sources. Practically speaking, these different orientations mean that the legislation and its interpretation will be subtly different. I looked through the legal literature for sources that might support one perspective over another, but I quickly realized that there was very little written about Canada’s copyright origins. I set about to correct that gap in the scholarship. Although my original intention was to explore Canada’s copyright legal tradition using conventional legal research methods, the research evolved into a wider interrogation of the law in the context of the history of the book and print culture in pre-Confederation Canada.

2. What was the most challenging aspect of this project?

Learning how to conduct archival research is at the top the list. I originally thought, naively, that the research would be fairly straightforward in the sense that I thought all I had to do was find the successive pieces of legislation, read the legislative debates, review the judicial decisions and the scholarship of legal experts that interpreted the statutes – that these sources of law would shed light on the rationale for enacting copyright law in the nineteenth century. However, I soon learned that there were no judicial decisions, no recorded legislative debates, and very little commentary surrounding the legislation.

I then turned my attention to the lives of the individuals who brought copyright forward. I also studied publishers’ archives, the archives of key politicians and education reformers, and British North American government archives. I reviewed nineteenth-century publishing agreements, legal opinions, and copyright registration data. I read the scholarship of book historians, education historians, and social historians. A very rich, complex, and utterly fascinating story emerged once I broadened the scope of my research in this way.

3. Tell us about the research process for this book. Was there something in your research that surprised you?

I was surprised by the extent to which copyright law was seen as advancing education policy in the British North American provinces. The desire to protect authors or publishers was secondary to the overarching public policy goal of public education and schoolbook production.

Analysing the copyright registrations from 1832–1867 was also very illuminating. These records provide a unique vantage point from which to study the development of early Canadian print culture and to interrogate the ways in which copyright supported Canadian educational, literary, and cultural aspirations.

This is a colonial story to the extent that it focuses on the relationship between the British colonies and the Empire. It doesn’t specifically address questions of colonization by British and French settlers in British North America. Nevertheless, within the context of English and French-Canadian relations, I was struck by the level of advocacy on behalf of French-Canadian readers in the Province of Canada, whose population was predominantly English-speaking. Within the province, French-Canadian book and print culture was supported despite the desire for French-Canadian linguistic and cultural assimilation on the part of the Imperial authorities.

Finally, my research into the geo-politics of Anglo-American copyright demonstrated that heavy-handed imperial copyright policy had a more profound impact on the public imagination in Canada than had previously been understood.

4. What do you hope readers will take away from reading For the Encouragement of Learning?

My hope is that readers will see that Canada’s copyright history is important, that it is not merely a footnote to British copyright history. For the Encouragement of Learning situates Canadian copyright law within a legal and book history framework that is distinct from American, British, or French traditions. And although it is a Canadian story, the book should appeal to a global readership because it provides an evidence-based exploration of the nature and purpose of the law to measure against the existing body of scholarship, which is primarily about British and American copyright. I hope that this book will inspire book historians and legal scholars from other countries to dig deeply into their own copyright histories so that, together, we can generate a global map of the different origins and historical evolutions of the law.


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