Wednesday, November 02, 2011

opted out of a copyright tariff? how's that workin' out for you?

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.

Quick flashback:

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.

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.
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.

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 infringement

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
Higher costs, decreased access, growing anger and fear.

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.

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Courtney said...

WOW. I am so thankful that I am no longer a student - I can imagine how frustrating that must be for them! I hope York figures something out soon to fix this mess that they've put themselves in.

John said...

Thanks for the comment, Courtney. My understanding is the mess will only get bigger, and it's not confined to York.

The great advantage for everyone in the collective licensing system is immediate, broad access to a large repertoire of works.

It boggles the mind that any administration would choose to try and obtain all those clearances by themselves over and over again. Such a scheme practically guarantees chaos and terrible service to faculty and students.

Sandy Crawley said...

An exemplary outreach to the government on the copyright bill by PWAC Calagary:

Dear C-11 Committee Members (Copyright Modernization Bill):

I am a professional freelance writer and have grave concerns about the proposed Bill C-11. This bill in its current form will undoubtedly have a negative impact on my ability to earn a fair living as a small business owner.

The writing industry as a whole has lagged behind others in terms of compensation growth. Where other industries have seen consistent increases, ours has continued to decline. Rates of pay are often at the same as the 1970s. One way that writers are able to have fair earning potential is by maintaining copyright on works produced. Bill C-11 jeopardizes that by allowing unlimited copying of material and its ill-defined exception for education under fair dealing.

In the music and film industries, copying of content without proper authorization from, and compensation to, its creator(s) is called piracy - and is illegal. It is incumbent on your committee that writers are afforded the same ownership protection of their works.

Bill C-11 in its current form reduces my ability to earn a fair living and potentially could collapse an entire small business industry. This industry is vital to the cultural preservation of the Canadian identity. We contribute to the perspective and views that are uniquely Canadian. Bill C-11 has the potential to derail our industry and force people out of work. As with any industry, there are ripple effects beyond the immediate and obvious that should be considered.

I expect you will push to change Bill C-11 so that it will maintain my right to operate my small business, to protect my rights as a creator and my ability to earn a fair living.


Members of the Professional Writers of Canada (PWAC) - Calgary Chapter:

Andrea Tombrowski, President (
Karen Crowdis (
Greg M. Williams (
Carey Rutherford (
Robert Bott (
A. Mary Murphy (
Heather Cook (
Colleen Biondi (
Sheelagh Matthews (