As I've tried to point out in the last few postings here, there is a small but organized (and very loud) chapter of the worldwide freecult here in Canada, and it has recently taken aim at the copyright royalties that writers make through collective licensing of our work in education. The freecult will say (out of one side of its mouth) that it doesn't hate copyright, per se; it just wants to tweak copyright slightly to make knowledge easier to access.
Out the other side of its mouth, of course, the freecult calls writers and publisher greedy for wanting royalties from education at all, and it lobbies government relentlessly to weaken copyright protection for artists, and to increase copyright exceptions to the point where the law is more exception than protection. The freecult has no real interest in tweaking copyright, unless the tweak can be accomplished with a sledgehammer.You'll have to ask freecult members themselves to explain their weird political motivation for all this anti-artist activity. I've never understood it myself.
At issue is a recent model licence agreement signed between Access Copyright (a collective of professional writers, visual artists and publishers in Canada) and the associations representing both universities and community colleges across the country (the AUCC and ACCC). These groups sat down in good faith at a negotiating table and banged out collective rates for the AC repertoire as it is used in schools. That repertoire represents 22 million individual works. Essentially, it contains the current collection of Canadian literature, and it is always expanding as new works are written and published.
Despite the agreements being reached by those charged with making these decisions, the freecult is currently spreading all sorts of misinformation about copyright in an attempt to intimidate individual schools away from ratifying the agreement. Yesterday, I noted that York University drank the shameful freecult kool-aid (tm), and declared it would not re-up its licence with Access Copyright. York claims it will be able to offer the same level of service to students and faculty at a much lower price, with the same amount of requested material, while still paying Canadian writers and publishers.
Can their claim be true?
Well, no, it can't. Here's why not.
Let's say a York professor wants to teach a survey course in the short fiction of contemporary Canadian literature. The professor prepares a reading list for her students. She wants them to read selections of individual short stories from the following works:
And Also Sharks, by Jessica Westhead (Cormorant Books)
The Beggar’s Garden, by Michael Christie (HarperCollins)
The Divinity Gene, by Matthew J. Trafford (Douglas & McIntyre)
The Meagre Tarmac, by Clark Blaise (Biblioasis)
The Meaning of Children, by Beverly Akerman (Exile)
Up Up Up, by Julie Booker (Anansi)
The Big Dream, by Rebecca Rosenblum (Biblioasis)
and, for good measure Too Much Happiness, by Alice Munro (M&S), because every survey course on Canadian short fiction should include some Munro.
That is a list of eight exceptionally good works of Canadian short fiction. Those books were created through long hours of work, mostly unpaid (occasionally, though rarely supported by a small grant). They are all in print, and all for sale as full books for between $18 and $27.
So, York has five options with this reading list:
Option #1 - pay for the books. Cost: $144-$216 per student.
Option #2 - Full clearance for a coursepack collection of photocopied or scanned selections from these books (clearances all handled by Access Copyright). Cost: $26 per student, which includes clearance on all other coursepacks they might need for the rest of the year.
Option #3 - individual clearances for copies from each book. Cost: Who knows? Even if York manages to get through all the work of individual clearances, could it possibly keep the cost per student below $26? Not bloody likely.
Option #4 - The literature grab. York can hope that new definitions of "fair dealing" in copyright will let their prof make all those copies from all those books for all those tuition-paying students without paying any royalties to anyone. York could complicate things even further by not photocopying, and instead just scanning stories digitally to offer them online, also without paying royalties for what is now a digital coursepack. These are highly unlikely freedoms resulting from recent copyright changes, but let's say they do actually happen. The same uses, of the same material, that once brought much needed income to Canadian authors now no longer do. Cost: all together, millions of dollars annually to Canadian writing and publishing. What's fair in that "fair dealing?"
Option #5 - cancel the survey course in Canadian short fiction, and lay off the prof since she didn't have tenure anyway and times are hard, budgetwise, you know, sorry 'bout that. Cost: Canadian students don't read Canadian writers.
As I wrote yesterday - welcome to the future of education in Canada.
Thanks freecult! You've done wonders for access to knowledge, and for the health of Canadian culture.
Just an FYI to Canada's writers and publishers - the President of York University can be reached here:
Dr. Mamdouh Shoukri, President and Vice-Chancellor
Office of the President
1050 York Research Tower
4700 Keele Street
Toronto, Ontario M3J 1P3
Keep it classy, please. We are guardians of language.