I've been silent for awhile. A literal loss of voice, due to illness. I'm better now, but at the beginning of what I hope will be a productive week of creative writing, so don't expect too many comment section swordfights from me.
I want to make a couple of points, surprisingly, designed to keep professional creator concerns (as I see them) in the debate.
First, the Friedland Report:
I notice there was a minor flurry of comment from the usual sources last week when Access Copyright, Canada's copyright licensing agency, released a report by an independent consultant who had been asked to study their royalty distribution system. The association I administer, PWAC (the Professional Writers Association of Canada) was one of a few creator groups who had asked AC to do this study. The Writers Union of Canada (TWUC) was another.
Well, the study was done, the report is now out, along with comments and response from Access Copyright's board of directors. Anyone is free to go and read the report online at the Access Copyright website (among other places).
My personal view is that Access Copyright responded with great professionalism and responsibility to a serious request from their affiliate organizations. Furthermore, they did so publicly in the middle of a reform debate that often sees them criticized for their very existence, let alone potential administrative flaws they might need to address. I commend the agency and all the publisher and professional creators on their board of directors for good, hard work on this study. As a professsional writer and an AC creator affiliate, I was part of the call for the study, I was interviewed by Dr. Martin Friedland (the independent consultant), and I have read the report and AC's response in full. I am very satisfied with the process, and with AC's response.
Independent Report Blasts Access Copyright Over Lack of Transparency, screams the headline on Michael Geist's blog, and then Geist goes on to call the Friedland report "a stunning indictment of the copyright collective..."
As someone who apparently was doing the blasting and indicting, I find the tone of Geist's report absolutely baffling. And I'm really just not sure what Geist believes is being proven by the report, other than what we already know -- AC needs to make some changes, has received recommendations for doing so and is, in fact, doing so.
I KNOW about the perceived inequities in the distribution structure at AC. I also know that the example Geist uses of these inequities, that "in the distribution for 2005 under the federal government licence, the publishers received $188,256 for scholarly journals and the creators received nothing," can be said to have more to do with Michael Geist than it does with Access Copyright. Professional writers who do not work for universities have recognized for many years the poor precedent for our own business created by contributors to scholarly journals (professors, mainly) who regularly sign away reprographic rights to the publishers of the journals. That is a terrible inequity, and I wonder why they allow it, considering they have the privilegd position of being in a limited pool of experts in their subject.
Anyway, I anticipate AC will survive their "indictment" and live to licence another day.
Prof. Laura Murray over at faircopyright.ca also takes a run at AC after the release of the Friedland report, and her agenda is very clearly spelled out. For her, the report outlines a "legitimacy probem" at Access Copyright, one that not only affects the affiliated creators, but users as well. "How can I tell my students to shell out $50 for a coursepack," she writes, "when I *know* that the money isn’t being allotted in a logical way? I don’t see how that could be ethical."
First of all, are coursepacks really $50? Does AC get $50 per coursepack to distribute back to the creators and publishers? My sense is that AC gets a very small portion of the full coursepack price, while the copy shop that creates them, and the campus bookstore that sells them get the lion's share of the price. I wonder how Dr. Murray's ethics feel about that distribution of money? This very inaccurate suggestion about the price of coursepack licenses has a distinctly herringish smell.
I can assure Dr. Murray that no creator affiliate I've ever talked to thinks AC's distribution complexity, or our various disagreements with it, should have any impact on the central question of whether or not educational licensing of copyright-protected materials is justifiable. I find the fact that Murray's posting went directly to this question very revealing indeed. Also revealing is her very first paragraph, which states:
"I’ve been a critic of Access Copyright for quite some time, but I always figured (hoped?) the main problem was transparency: mechanisms and principles for allotting revenues were not made public, and that bothered me as a matter of principle."
As a long-time critic of AC, she never bothered to get a copy of their Annual Report and study the distribution system? Wow.
Finally, there was also a lot of noise about the big telecoms coming out in favour of copyright reform. Dr Geist writes of the Business Coalition for Balanced Copyright:
"it appears that business, education, consumer, and many creator groups are moving toward a consensus around Canadian copyright policies that would meet the requirements of the World Intellectual Property Organization's Internet treaties, preserve consumer rights over their personal property, and provide Internet and technology companies with a legal framework that fosters greater innovation."
If that end result was the actual and only end result of copyright reform, then I think Geist wouldn't have to put the qualifier "many" in front of "creator groups." I don't know that the approximately 100,000 professional Canadian creators (not covered by Geist's "many"), who are dependent on their creative work for their entire livelihoods, are at all surprised that businesses in the business of selling access are positioning themselves against copyright holders. We're kind of used to that.
How many in a "many," btw?