Monday, August 09, 2010
the real cost of education
(image courtesy the Netherlands Nationaal Archief)
On his Excess Copyright blog, lawyer Howard Knopf is advocating to have folks complain to the Copyright Board about a recent Access Copyright tariff proposal. Notice the clever similarity between Knopf's blog-name and the name of Canada's Copyright Licensing Agency. It's no accident. Knopf is a long-time critic of collective copyright licensing in Canada.
Access Copyright currently holds licenses with Canadian educational institutions (K-12 and post-secondary) designed to compensate creators and publishers for the large quantity of photocopying (beyond fair dealing) that goes on in the service of education. The recent proposed tariff aims to follow education's natural move away from photocopying and toward increased use of digital copies of copyright-protected work.
The principle behind AC's tariff proposal is quite easy to support (I believe). While educational tools may change, payment for those tools will always be required. After all, in the move from chalkboards to data-projectors, did schools get the data projectors for free?
I'm also guessing that outfitting a school for data projection costs quite a bit more than slate and chalk.
Won't someone think of the students!?
So, why is Knopf asking people to complain about the new AC tariff proposal? Here are a selection of quotations to help us understand:
"AC wants educators and students (i.e. taxpayers) to pay for much stuff and uses that are or should be free, if the law is properly understood and applied."
"AC wants to take $45 per year from each of university students and $35 for each of the college students per [year?]. That’s about $60,000,000 a year for those who keep track of taxpayers’ money"
"Think of all the advanced research chairs or library books that could be bought for these tens of millions of dollars."
That last quote is a doozy. These are the (frustrating) arguments Canada's professional creators, producers and publishers have been battered with for years now.
Paying for copyright-protected content is so expensive! Think of the poor students and their educational debt-burden! Think of all the other great things all that money could buy!
The way I read his posting, Knopf believes most educational uses of content should be free. He even bemoans the fact that the proposed Bill C-32 (An Act to Amend the Copyright Act) will not solve the problem of paid content since C-32's already broad educational exception is not broad enough.
Having paid off student debt in the past, and anticipating quite a bit more of it in the future (unless my kids get baseball scholarships, as planned), I am just as concerned with the cost of education as Mr. Knopf is. The numbers Knopf quotes are pretty scary. So, I went in search of more information.
Sixty Million Dollars
Knopf calculates that the total AC tariff for every Canadian college and university student (of which there are 1.5 million) will be $60,000,000. That's a big number. Knopf also makes the interesting assumption that this cost will necessarily have to be paid by the students themselves.
But let's keep in mind that the tariff will cover the legitimate copyright costs of every single student in every single post-secondary institute in the country. How many post-sec institutions are there in Canada? I just asked Google that question and came back with a list of roughly 2000.
Following Knopf's lead down the path of simple mathematics:
$60,000,000 divided by 2000 = $30,000 per institution.
Now, $30,000 is a far less scary number. Of course, $30,000 represents a very inaccurate mean number, since the actual cost of the tariff is calculated per student. Still, you'd think just about any post-sec in Canada could afford to pay $45 per student for educational content themselves without passing on that cost to the students themselves.
Could they? Let's see:
Picking a Canadian post-sec completely at random, I see that the University of Ottawa's Annual Report balance sheet for the year 2007-08 shows a revenue of $806.1 million.
Wow. What was that number again?
$806.1 million. That's almost one Billion dollars.
Okay, and that year they had 35,548 students. Under the proposed tariff, therefore, U of O would be looking at a total tariff cost of roughly $1.6 million.
Could they afford to pay that $1.6 million without adding it to the student burden?
Well, as an expense, the tariff represents a minuscule .2% of their total revenues. How does that compare with some of their other expense percentages?:
Maintenance and utilities = 3.7%
Supplies = 4.5%
Furniture & Equipment (data projectors?) = 5.5%
Scholarships & Bursaries = 5.9%
Buildings & Renovations = 13.3%
Other = 11%
All of which combined comes to 43.9% of the expense picture for the University of Ottawa (just one of 2,000 Canadian post-sec institutions). So where do their other expenses go?
Salaries & Benefits = 56.1%
What are the real costs of education in Canada?
Well, I don't claim to know what all of the real costs are, but looking at this one representative university tells me one thing for certain -- fair payment for copyright-protected content hardly even registers as a cost at all.
University of Ottawa could take .2% from its Salaries & Benefits line, move it to the Supplies line and every single U of O student's content usage would be paid for. What's more, Salaries & Benefits would still represent 55.9% of total expenses.
But why attack the Salaries & Benefits of Canada's hard-working educators? I think they are worth every dollar they're paid. Why not just devote .2 of the 11% in the mysterious Other expense line to paying the copyright tariff. In fact, just 7% of that Other line would be able to pay the tariff for every post-sec student in Canada.
Wow, one randomly selected university could reasonably afford to pay the entire tariff for every student in the country, without touching any of their currently identifiable expense lines.
One last point
At the end of his call for objections to the tariff, Howard Knopf discloses that he is an affiliate of Access Copyright and that he does receive a share of the license payments each year:
"I do cash their little cheques each year, and hopefully redistribute the sum to good causes."
I'm not sure what Mr. Knopf means when he says that hopefully he redistributes his AC money to good causes. I am also an AC affiliate, and I also receive a cheque each year. While my cheque is almost certainly the same size as Knopf's, I don't consider it little, and I know for certain that I redistribute it to a good cause.
My AC cheque goes into Registered Education Savings Plans for my kids.