Near the end of last summer, I published an op-ed in the Globe & Mail pointing out potential difficulties facing university faculty and students as a result of their school opting out of a new interim copyright tariff.
There has been a respectful collective licensing arrangement for educational use in place in Canada for decades, primarily through Access Copyright.
This system has provided broad access to teachers and students to Canadian content, and important revenues to Canadian creators and publishers.
Access Copyright licenses have been print-focused, as has been educational use, but educational use is becoming more and more digital.
Access Copyright attempted to negotiate new license arrangements with universities and colleges covering new and increased uses in the digital environment.One of the more prominent of the opting out universities was Toronto's York University. They announced new copyright guidelines for staff early in 2011. These directives contained some troubling details, such as a requirement that staff essentially spy on each other and on students to police copyright on campus, and the very real possibility that materials would be denied faculty if clearances outside Access Copyright were not readily available. I wrote about York's new guidelines here.
Free culture theorists advised that schools opt out of collective licensing and depend instead on fair dealing to cover most digital uses.
Universities refused to negotiate new licenses, forcing Access Copyright to apply for a Copyright Board tariff.
The Board imposed an interim tariff to cover ongoing uses while the new tariff is designed.
A number of universities and colleges announced their intention to work outside the tariff, claiming they could provide the same access to teachers and students without AC clearances.
Well, it's November already, which means faculty and students have been dealing with the post opt-out reality for nearly a full semester. How are things going over at York University? Is it all sunshine and rainbows as the free culture folks promised, or is it more along the lines of my predictions in the Globe?
As it happens, the York University Faculty Association has been wondering the same thing, so they put out a call for responses to the new regime. Here's a short sampling of the summarized responses, publicly available on the YUFA website:
rumours of students spying on faculty and classmates re: potential copyright infringementHigher costs, decreased access, growing anger and fear.
fear of persons other than faculty, TAs, and students enrolled in a course being enabled to enter a course website searching for possibly infringing items
lack of notice concerning new requirements: faculty member placed course-kit order as usual by mid-Summer and was never notified that the copies would be late: as of 3 October, still had no commitment from Bookstore that items would even be available by mid-October
inordinate delays in processing faculty permission requests e.g., request for permission placed with Bookstore 2 August; after repeated queries and promises, items not made available by Bookstore until 3 October: detailed email paper trail documents delays
faculty now required to seek permission repeatedly as permission might not be granted from year to year
faculty report that articles included in past course kits were denied permission this year
students have directed anger concerning delays at faculty members
insufficient numbers of copies have been made available by Bookstore (e.g., 120 copies for a class of 200)
insufficient lead time for students to prepare for their midterm test and their proposals for the major semester project
inordinate increase in the price of course kits, which is no longer printed on the kit: e.g., although containing fewer items than last year, a course kit’s price has increased from $57.00 to $87.00, i.e., by more than 50%; in another instance, from $54.00 to $99.00, i.e., almost an additional 100%, for a smaller group of readings
concern about cost of legal representation in the event that a faculty member is sued for copyright infringement
If I were a student (or the parent of a student) paying for an education at York University or any of the other tariff-ignoring schools, I'd be wondering about the actual value of the education I've bought.