Michael Geist is internationally well-known both inside and outside academic circles. The University of Ottawa law professor and Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law authors a popular blog, writes syndicated columns in two of Canada’s largest newspapers, is active on Twitter, and takes frequent calls from the media to comment on everything from wireless roaming fees to Internet privacy.
Geist is the winner of SSHRC’s inaugural Connection Award, an award given to a SSHRC-funded researcher with an outstanding record of effective engagement with—and beyond—the social sciences and humanities research community.
“For me, it has been essential to not just write or do research in a vacuum, but to try to make a real connection between the research and public policy,” said Geist.
Geist’s research project The Future of Copyright Law in Canada: Reconciling Creator and User Rights played a key role in influencing policy-makers during the enactment of Bill C-11, which modernized the Copyright Act of Canada for the digital age.
“If I look at the bills that the government had on copyright, say, in 2005, and I compare that to what we ultimately enacted in 2012, there's been a dramatic increase in the number of user-oriented provisions,” he said. “I think a lot of that has to do with the shifting debate that we saw in Canada on copyright over the last number of years.”
Geist was a leading voice in that public debate, and his work has since been cited in several Supreme Court of Canada copyright decisions.
Copyright law in Canada now takes consumers into account in everything from music download fees to fair use of copyrighted educational materials. All of Geists’s books and articles are published under Creative Commons or open access licences. He said that makes a lot of sense for a researcher, because it increases the number of people who read and cite their work.
Canadian Lawyer magazine has named Geist one of Canada’s top-25 most influential lawyers for the past three consecutive years. He has won the Ontario Premier’s Research Excellence Award, the CANARIE IWAY Public Leadership Award and the Kroeger College Award for Policy Leadership. Internationally, he has garnered the Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award and the Public Knowledge IP3 Award, both regarded as two of the top digital rights awards in the world. His blog is a three-time Best Canadian Law Blog winner.
Geist is encouraged that more academics are connecting outside of academia.
“Some appear before parliamentary committees, appear more regularly in the media, take to social media,” he said. “ There are more and more academics that are becoming engaged in this and trying to make a connection, which I think is fantastic.”
Next for Geist is a massive, open online course on copyright policy in Canada, and a microwebsite devoted to answering the public’s questions on copyright.
“We’re at the very beginning of a lot of this,” Geist said. “But the rules that we establish have the potential to be with us for quite some time. And so I think it’s a particularly important time. I don't know how you can not be excited about both the potential and the opportunity to help shape some of those rules.”