Tuesday, May 22, 2012

UBC student unloads on school for not signing copyright licence

Last week, the University of British Columbia made brief headlines when it declared that, as a matter of principle, it was not going to sign a collective licensing agreement with Canada's copyright licensing agency, Access Copyright. The principle at work was unclear, since a copyright licence is nothing more than payment for materials used. Was the principle "we don't want to pay for materials we will use?"

In a broadcast e-mail rife with the same free culture rhetoric and inaccuracies Canada's artists have suffered for years now, UBC declared that they could do without Access Copyright licensing and still provide the same, if not better, educational materials for their tuition-paying students. This claim was repeated by Allan Bell, UBC director for library digital initiatives, in a recent article in the Ubyssey, the student newspaper at UBC.  Mr. Bell said "“We showed that we could live without the interim tariff and things went quite well for the last year since September. [It] went so well, in fact, that we think we can continue on that course...”

Judging by the lone comment beneath the UBC article, not all the tuition-paying students agree with the administration's assessment of their materials coverage. And I quote (carefully):

What a crock of sh*@. Clearly Mr. Bell isn't speaking on behalf of science students, as we might as well have been in the f*#@ing dark ages dusting off library tomes this past year. The majority of our lecture powerpoints and handouts were filled with blank slides where diagrams are supposed to be because UBC was too arrogant to pay the interim fee until they inevitably walked away from this agreement - leaving students completely sc@#*ed in the process. Know what's less fun than learning from professors at a research university that cares little for its undergrads? Having to look up 10-20 diagrams per lecture. Yeah, real win there UBC... thanks.

When you're paying upwards of $5,000 per year in tuition on a campus that sports a private golf course and some of the most expensive beachfront property in North America, and that school is unwilling to pay $26 per year so that you can have all the materials you actually need for your learning, I think a little spicy language might be excusable.

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Sandy Crawley said...

I must say this student has a very effective literary style for a science major.

Darrell Noakes said...

I notice that UBC doesn't categorically declare that content should be free, but rather that they are willing to negotiate with licence holders individually. Sounds like a lot of work to me, but perhaps they find it beneficial. Or maybe it's part of a "divide and conquer" strategy. They could also simply be rebelling against the AUCC, in particular, that first "c" in the acronym. As long as I can remember, that university has held a disdain for mere colleges.

Sandy Crawley said...

Good point Darrell. Part of the problem is that, at the same time as this licence is on offer, the appeal process by the post-sec institutions of a Tariff decision continues at the Copyright Board and there are certainly some participants who have exhibited an ideological rejection of the collective and its services to both education and rights holders. Alas, UBC seems to be among them.And you are absolutely correct to question the fiduciary responsibility of UBC to students and funders. Negotiating with for-profit entities must be costing them significant financial and human resources. On top of that they have downloaded the infringement liability to professors and students, many of whom are probably caught up in the copyleft ideology.