Canada's free culture cheerleading squad is today making much of the University of British Columbia's decision to forgo collective licensing through Access Copyright. Ariel Katz (one of the head cheerleaders) has placed his own employer (University of Toronto) in what he calls the Fair Dealing Hall of Shame while celebrating the left-coast announcement. U of T, which pays Prof. Katz for his work, signed a deal with Access Copyright long ago because it also respects the work of Canadian artists. UBC, for its part, has declared that its decision to not pay artists through collective licensing represents the more principled approach. Following their logic, not paying for something you intend to use, or just flat out ignoring illicit activity on campus are each far more principled and high-minded approaches to copyright compliance than simply paying artists a fair price for their work.
Here's how sustainable, and principled, and just plain easy the UBC is making life for their professors and students (from the UBC copyright compliance explanation page). The parentheses are mine, as if you couldn't tell:
Using content from the Web:
And here's how I interpret these convoluted "helpful" instructions:
Since the Access Copyright licences will cover web-based materials (as well as print materials) under copyright, each and every use of materials (including web links) will have to be thoroughly pre-vetted by individual professors before being used, to make sure they are not covered by Access Copyright licensing. If, after onerous pre-vetting, it is determined the material cannot be had for free by the university, the professor will not be permitted to use it. Even if the material is deemed to be essential to the teaching of the course, it will not be permitted.
Academic freedom? What's that now?
What is the likelihood UBC professors and students will be using Access Copyright repertoire materials in licensable ways? I estimate, conservatively, the likelihood at 100%*, which will place them legally offside and subject to a Copyright Board-certified tariff.
The end result being that UBC pays later exactly what they are refusing to pay right now. But, at least, they will have struck a blow for free culture theory and sent the important and principled message to Canada's artists that our universally declared human right to be compensated for use of our work ends at the corner of Blanca Street and University Boulevard in West Vancouver.
* It took me less than two minutes of web searching to find an upcoming UBC humanities course that includes coursepack materials unlikely to be covered by fair dealing or private licensing:
Course pack containing: Christine Jorgensen’s memoir “The Story of My Life” (1953), Mark Shane’s pulp novel Sex Gantlet to Murder (1955), a selection of short stories, press clippings, historical medical scholarship, and critical readings.
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