Tuesday, July 27, 2010

what are 3 million books worth?

That's a question the framers of Canada's Bill C-32 are going to have to ask themselves after a recent Federal Court of Appeal decision to support a 2009 tariff certified by the Copyright Board of Canada. The tariff was under review at the request of all provincial Ministers of Education (except Quebec's) and a number of individual school boards.

Access Copyright, Canada's Copyright Licensing Agency sent out a press release yesterday announcing the ruling, calling it "an important decision for rights holders not just in the education sector, but in every field of creative endeavour."

Access Copyright has shown that over 250 million pages of work are photocopied for use in the Canadian K-12 sector, an amount roughly equivalent to 3 million books. Access Copyright's Executive Director Maureen Cavan notes:

"That's 3 million books that have not been sold. As long as reproduction is compensated, creators and publishers and the thousands of knowledge workers supported by this industry can survive. Take away the compensation, and you will jeopardize a Canadian industry that provides Canadian children and their teachers with Canadian content."

On the other hand, the introduction of an overly broad exception to copyright for educational use would all but eliminate fair compensation for this established use. While happy with the Court of Appeal ruling, Access Copyright General Counsel, Roanie Levy, worries about the unintended effects of copyright amendments under C-32.

"The decision is bitter-sweet when you consider that the federal government's proposed changes to the Copyright Act could impair future compensation for reproduction of materials used in education."

250 million of anything is bound to have important economic value - even 3 million is not a figure one would ordinarily discard with the wave of a hand. Undoubtedly, the special committee on C-32 will be hearing a strong message about knowledge workers and education from the creator sector. After all, everyone else gets paid for their work in education. It would be odd, and rather expensive, if writers and publishers find themselves caught up in an exception to that rule.

Especially when the presumed reasoning behind an educational exception - providing easy and worry-free access to a large pool of creative work - is the very reasoning behind the tariff. From AC's info page on the tariff:

The tariff is designed to allow you to make copies that would not be covered by fair dealing or available through the public domain . It simplifies your job by eliminating the need to ask permission every time you want to make a copy.

The tariff provides permission to copy from a vast repertoire of commercially published books, magazines, journals and newspapers, and ensures that creators and publishers are paid when their works are copied.

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Pieter Hulshoff said...


I fear that once again I have to disagree with you on some points (and agree on others).

Those 250M pages represent the amount of pages copied, some of which from works under copyright. The levy is defined such that it considers a certain percentage of those pages worthy of compensation. As such, this is not equivalent to 3M books under copyright, but a percentage of 3M books under copyright we're talking about here.

Having said that, and iterating what I wrote on one of your previous blogposts: I do believe rightsholders deserve compensation for the copying of their works, and I do not believe that the article in C-32 you're referring to should be read the way you read it (other countries have similar law articles, and are not read as such either). Has any request for clarification on this article been made to the Minister yet?

John said...

Hi Pieter,

Thanks again for your comments.

I think AC is clear they are making an equivalency calculation based on estimates, and I believe their estimates are concerned only with material covered by copyright, as they state on their tariif info page - "not covered by fair dealing and not available through the public domain."

Copyright collectives wage a daily struggle for legitimacy against a relentless attack from copyright critics... I was just reading back into 2005 when a prominent Canadian critic claimed the copyright reform legislation of the day was not hard enough on collectives who collect hundreds of millions of dollars without being transparent about where it goes.

That wasn't true of AC 5 years ago, and it remains untrue, but the collective approach remains a popular target for the copyleft. I've always been baffled by the animosity, since in its very "collective" nature, AC represents a victory for the little guy.

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