Thursday, August 25, 2011

free culture's funny new math

45 is much, much larger than 175.

I know, that sentence above looks kind of... funny. How could the number 45 be larger than the number 175? In what crazy, backwards, upside-down world would anyone think that?

Well, this is the dawn of free culture, which brings with it many promising New Business Models and apparently some pretty new math as well. As schools around the country get ready to welcome record numbers of new students, it's a good time to have a look at the math they're using.

Free Culture Math:

For months now, we've been hearing from the champions of free culture that Canada's post-secondary educational institutions (colleges and universities) cannot possibly afford a copyright licence fee that at its maximum could be calculated as $45 per full time student.

Real Math:

Considering the other costs that go into a post-secondary education (tuition, student fees, housing, supplies, technology, transportation) $45 per year is actually quite small, and considering that number would cover hundreds of thousands of individual copyright clearances for students and professors every year, it actually looks like a bargain by traditional math standards. As well, doing some real math, I've previously noted that just 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.

The real balance sheets of real universities show the real truth that this tariff is entirely affordable. But no, we have been told again and again that $45 per student is simply unsupportable. 45, apparently, is a very large number.

What does that $45 represent? Well, it's the absolute maximum amount the Copyright Board of Canada might impose on universities and colleges in a tariff for ongoing use of the vast and ever-growing collection of materials represented exclusively by Access Copyright, the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency. It represents content, and free culture math tells us that any number attached to content is too big a number.

Free Culture Math:

Except for 175 - that's a very small number. Last week, the free culture cruise director, Michael Geist, tweeted a blog posting by fellow academic Blayne Haggart that claims to outline the "low stakes" for professional artists in the current fight over collective licensing at Canada's colleges and universities. Quoting one discontented writer unhappy with his licensing royalty, Haggart concludes that a baseline annual payment of $175 per creator is "not very much." Says Haggart:
"In terms of policy battles, this doesn’t look like the type of hill worth fighting for. If you’re a writer."

Real Math:

My cheque from Access Copyright last year was much larger than $175. The math Haggart depends on to quote $175 as a "baseline" is the same funny math Geist earlier used to completely misread Access Copyright's balance sheet in their last annual report. It also only takes into account the repertoire payment to creators, which is not the only way creators are paid copyright royalties.

But okay, let's go with $175. Using real math, I could take my baseline copyright royalties, pay the tariff for both of my kids and still have $85 in my pocket. I don't know what that looks like to the free culture folks, but to a professional artist struggling in the real economy that looks like real income.

One last bit of Free Culture Math:

What number is the post-sec community proposing instead of $45 per student?

Well, the schools refusing to pay the interim tariff are essentially proposing $0. Real math seems to work for them, because paying nothing for access to a vast repertoire of Canadian content will always be cheaper than paying anything.

And maybe there's a new math upside for artists. While creators might get only a portion of the $45, they're guaranteed 100% of the $0.

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Darryl said...

Wow. What a totally disingenuous apple and orange comparison.

No matter how hard you grasp the straw John, you will not be able to weave it into gold.

Crockett said...

@John "What number is the post-sec community proposing instead of $45 per student? Well, the schools refusing to pay the interim tariff are essentially proposing $0"

I agree that paying nothing for content would be disastrous for everyone, but it seems creative math is needed to add up the millions in payments that universities such as UBC pay for databases and direct licencing and still come up to $0 as you imply.

Yes some institutions may not be paying out for content under the AC licence this term but to infer that they are, or even intend, to pay nothing at all is disingenuous. The question 'if' someone can pay for something is different than 'should' they. Never mind the sticker price the real question is ... is the AC tariff the best value for the money?

Math is a funny thing, $45 does sound like a small amount but multiply that by 50,000 students and $2.25 Million is now all of a sudden a major budget line on the university books. Such an amount may or may not be better used to legally obtain content elsewhere.

Then again AC may just be the best value in town and the universities fools for considering otherwise. This next year will be quite telling on that account.

John said...

Hmmm, you guys both forgot to "Like" the posting.

Must have been the mental effort to come up with your standard "nuh uh!" rebuttals. Took everything you had.

Darryl said...

Actually John, I didn't make any attempt at a rebuttal. It hardly makes any sense to do so before you write something worth criticizing.

Speaking of interesting backward math. It is going to be interesting to see if A-C's attempt to increase it's revenue from universities will end up reducing it even faster as more and more universities take flight and abandon A-C for better options.