Monday, August 09, 2010

the real cost of education

(image courtesy the Netherlands Nationaal Archief)

On his Excess Copyright blog, lawyer Howard Knopf is advocating to have folks complain to the Copyright Board about a recent Access Copyright tariff proposal. Notice the clever similarity between Knopf's blog-name and the name of Canada's Copyright Licensing Agency. It's no accident. Knopf is a long-time critic of collective copyright licensing in Canada.

Access Copyright currently holds licenses with Canadian educational institutions (K-12 and post-secondary) designed to compensate creators and publishers for the large quantity of photocopying (beyond fair dealing) that goes on in the service of education. The recent proposed tariff aims to follow education's natural move away from photocopying and toward increased use of digital copies of copyright-protected work.

The principle behind AC's tariff proposal is quite easy to support (I believe). While educational tools may change, payment for those tools will always be required. After all, in the move from chalkboards to data-projectors, did schools get the data projectors for free?

I'm also guessing that outfitting a school for data projection costs quite a bit more than slate and chalk.

Won't someone think of the students!?

So, why is Knopf asking people to complain about the new AC tariff proposal? Here are a selection of quotations to help us understand:

"AC wants educators and students (i.e. taxpayers) to pay for much stuff and uses that are or should be free, if the law is properly understood and applied."

"AC wants to take $45 per year from each of university students and $35 for each of the college students per [year?]. That’s about $60,000,000 a year for those who keep track of taxpayers’ money"

"Think of all the advanced research chairs or library books that could be bought for these tens of millions of dollars."

That last quote is a doozy. These are the (frustrating) arguments Canada's professional creators, producers and publishers have been battered with for years now.

Paying for copyright-protected content is so expensive! Think of the poor students and their educational debt-burden! Think of all the other great things all that money could buy!

The way I read his posting, Knopf believes most educational uses of content should be free. He even bemoans the fact that the proposed Bill C-32 (An Act to Amend the Copyright Act) will not solve the problem of paid content since C-32's already broad educational exception is not broad enough.

Having paid off student debt in the past, and anticipating quite a bit more of it in the future (unless my kids get baseball scholarships, as planned), I am just as concerned with the cost of education as Mr. Knopf is. The numbers Knopf quotes are pretty scary. So, I went in search of more information.

Sixty Million Dollars

Knopf calculates that the total AC tariff for every Canadian college and university student (of which there are 1.5 million) will be $60,000,000. That's a big number. Knopf also makes the interesting assumption that this cost will necessarily have to be paid by the students themselves.

But let's keep in mind that the tariff will cover the legitimate copyright costs of every single student in every single post-secondary institute in the country. How many post-sec institutions are there in Canada? I just asked Google that question and came back with a list of roughly 2000.

Following Knopf's lead down the path of simple mathematics:

$60,000,000 divided by 2000 = $30,000 per institution.

Now, $30,000 is a far less scary number. Of course, $30,000 represents a very inaccurate mean number, since the actual cost of the tariff is calculated per student. Still, you'd think just about any post-sec in Canada could afford to pay $45 per student for educational content themselves without passing on that cost to the students themselves.

Could they? Let's see:

Picking a Canadian post-sec completely at random, I see that the University of Ottawa's Annual Report balance sheet for the year 2007-08 shows a revenue of $806.1 million.

Wow. What was that number again?

$806.1 million. That's almost one Billion dollars.

Okay, and that year they had 35,548 students. Under the proposed tariff, therefore, U of O would be looking at a total tariff cost of roughly $1.6 million.

Could they afford to pay that $1.6 million without adding it to the student burden?

Well, as an expense, the tariff represents a minuscule .2% of their total revenues. How does that compare with some of their other expense percentages?:

Maintenance and utilities = 3.7%
Supplies = 4.5%
Furniture & Equipment (data projectors?) = 5.5%
Scholarships & Bursaries = 5.9%
Buildings & Renovations = 13.3%
Other = 11%

All of which combined comes to 43.9% of the expense picture for the University of Ottawa (just one of 2,000 Canadian post-sec institutions). So where do their other expenses go?

Salaries & Benefits = 56.1%

What are the real costs of education in Canada?

Well, I don't claim to know what all of the real costs are, but looking at this one representative university tells me one thing for certain -- fair payment for copyright-protected content hardly even registers as a cost at all.

University of Ottawa could take .2% from its Salaries & Benefits line, move it to the Supplies line and every single U of O student's content usage would be paid for. What's more, Salaries & Benefits would still represent 55.9% of total expenses.

But why attack the Salaries & Benefits of Canada's hard-working educators? I think they are worth every dollar they're paid. Why not just devote .2 of the 11% in the mysterious Other expense line to paying the copyright tariff. In fact, just 7% of that Other line would be able to pay the tariff for every post-sec student in Canada.

Wow, one randomly selected university could reasonably afford to pay the entire tariff for every student in the country, without touching any of their currently identifiable expense lines.

Imagine that.

One last point

At the end of his call for objections to the tariff, Howard Knopf discloses that he is an affiliate of Access Copyright and that he does receive a share of the license payments each year:

"I do cash their little cheques each year, and hopefully redistribute the sum to good causes."

I'm not sure what Mr. Knopf means when he says that hopefully he redistributes his AC money to good causes. I am also an AC affiliate, and I also receive a cheque each year. While my cheque is almost certainly the same size as Knopf's, I don't consider it little, and I know for certain that I redistribute it to a good cause.

My AC cheque goes into Registered Education Savings Plans for my kids.

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Joe Clark said...

Your not-atypically disingenuous and tendentious post misses the point that Knopf disputed the size of the fee. You also completely disregard the settled fact (I’m sure you’ve read LSUC) that many of the uses for which a charge is proposed are legally defined user rights already.

I dunno, John. Why didn’t you write this as a sonnet or something, or maybe just as some kind of literary conversation between imaginary personages? “Four Characters in Search of a Levy That Will Compensate Expropriated Authors” kind of thing? That sort of thing goes over well with your fans, who know far less about copyright than they do about, say, Argentine horror fiction.

Darryl said...

Hello John.

Are you aware that Knopf's Blog name predates Access Copyright's name change from CanCopy? If so I guess the similarity in names is AC's own doing and is a subtle admission on their part of what their mission is. Entirely plausible I suppose.

Sorry, I didn't have a lot of time so I skipped over most of what you said regarding the cost of education and the affordability of AC's fees.

BTW. I'd like to start charging every blogger for the comments I put up on their sites. I think they should all be able to afford $45/yr for my services. It shouldn't matter whether I'm justified in asking for this. I'm sure they can afford it so they should just pay it. I will await your cheque.

John said...

Thanks for your comments, gentlemen. Good luck with your various projects.

Anonymous said...

oops, Access Copyright changed their name in 2002.

Knopf's first blog posting on Excess Copyright is in January 2006.

Darryl's only off by four years.

Darryl said...

Heh, thanks Annonoumous. I could have sworn I'd recently read from Howard that his blog name predated AC, but I sure can't find it now.

In consideration for this obvious blunder on my part, I'll discount my very fair fee for my posts by $5. John, just send be a cheque for $40 dollars and we'll call it even.

That's OK. No need to thank me. You're welcome.

John said...


Sorry, I have a policy. I only pay for what I use, and I try to only use accurate information.

Nothing you write here qualifies.

Chris said...

Well said John. Not to try and wrap this whole thing into a nutshell, but I feel like it really does come down to one thing. Without proper legislation/compensation, the students will be the ones who ultimately suffer, due to the eventual lack of quality content. Last time I checked no-one was researching/writing/publishing educational content for free. If we want to crunch numbers, why don't we see how much it costs to pay for all the research assistants/lab time and travel involved in the average educational work? If the best and brightest can make more money doing something other than creating these works they eventually will. I can hear the anti-copyright crew groaning at this as I type, but really... it's this simple.

Anonymous said...

Chris - you nailed it. You get what you pay for. Free educational materials? Sounds great at face value. What could be better for cash-strapped students? But wait, what about the creators of quality text books and other written materials? Understandably, they won't work for free. So what are the students left with? Wiki-junk, I guess.

John - thanks for speaking up on behalf of not only creators, but students as well.

Darryl - I believe these issues are worthy of debate. But your side of the argument needs more than smart-aleck comments to convince reasonable people.

Darryl said...

Anonymous, I've tried intelligent debate with Degen. It doesn't work.

Look. Knopf is objecting to AC attempting to charge for uses which the law says they have no business charging for.

John's retort is to argue that the schools can afford it. He missed the mark. Completely. My reply was to illustrate the problem with demanding money for something you have no business demanding it for.

To make it clearer for both of you. Access Copyright has about as much right to demand compensation for fair dealing usage and web linking as I have a right to demand John pay me for my comments on his blog.

I'll admit that my post was a smart-aleky remark. But John already demonstrated by his reply to Knopf's original post that intelligent dialogue does not work.

John said...

holy jebus...

Both Darryl and Mr. Clark somehow missed my (several) references to Knopf's opinions around the fair dealing issue. He ALSO, and in greatly sensational fashion, makes a "poor students" economic argument, to which I have responded (quite well, IIDSSM).

All of AC's licenses are intended to cover usage outside fair dealing - in other words, usage protected by copyright. The fair dealing argument here is just more of the same shell-game rhetoric from those who really don't want AC's licensing to exist at all.

I'm sure AC will make the case for all of the uses it has listed. My own opinion, as I have expressed elsewhere, is that all use of copyright-protected material within the context of a paid educational environment (and that includes new, digital ways to "access" content) should be paid for, by the educational institutions themsleves (not by the students).

When AC makes its own case, the Copyright Board will make their decision. Go democracy!

phonegirl said...

I feel like a broken record these days. I stand firm on my belief that content creators (and hopefully students aspiring to be the world's next creators) have a right to fair compensation for their works and...that consumers also have a right to "fair use". From blog to blog, I keep reading the same stuff. Mud-slinging, belabouring the same points over and over. We need Copyright law in Canada. Now. Really? Does Knopf expect compensation for his works? I bet he does.

Victoria said...

John Degen couldn't be more correct. The numbers in his example speak for themselves. Acces Copyright's proposed tariff rates are NOMINAL. I'm sick and tired of hearing arguments that creators don't deserve to be compensated for their work. How are we going to make any progress in the future if creators can't make a living? Until the Howard Knopfs and all of the anti- copyright advocates of the world are willing to work for free, their arguements to me seem completely hypocritical (especiallly when Knopf admits to cashing his AC checks!). It's simple. Rights holders deserve compensation for their work and we don't have an indisputable "right" to it just because we want it.

Eddie said...

Right on, John.

Just because you can copy something doesn’t mean the copy should be available for free.

Sadly, it seems so easy for some armchair critics to argue in favour of free, but always leave creators out in the cold. Do they not have rights?

Darryl said...

Odd, my posts seem to keep being eaten by the system. I'll try again.

John. Your right I missed it. Please indicate where you address Knopf's issue about AC wanting compensation for web linking. Knopf makes many good points which you so far have ignored.

As for the rest of you AC supporters on this. Every single one of you seems to think that your opponents are arguing for free stuff

"Just because you can copy something doesn’t mean the copy should be available for free. "

Get over it. I assume you are all writers. When will you learn to read? Not one comment here has argued that schools should not pay for copyright protected content. Neither has Geist nor Knopf. The argument has been that they should not pay for content which has legally been made available for free. I.E. by the author; they should not pay for uses which are specifically excepted from copyright protection I.E. fair dealings; and they should not pay for anything which is not even covered by copyright. I.E. web linking.

Start making reasonable arguments that what AC is asking for is justified, and stop making accusations that everybody who is critical of them has to be a pirate.


John said...


It's not my job to instruct you on how to read my postings. You read what you want to, how you want to. That has always been the case.

I note that Geist is today advocating that education take its (or someone's) ball and go home if Access Copyright persists in pushing... how does he put it?... "a dramatic increase in costs."

It's classic rhetorical three-card monty. Cost? No, no, no it's not about cost. Keep your eye on the real reason - fair dealing. Here we go... now where's the real reason? There? - oh, look at that, it was about cost all along!

There are disagreements about which activities in education represent actual fair dealing, and which are being dreamily included in proposed "expanded" fair dealing. How about we wait until those disagreements are authoritatively settled before we conclude one way or another?

Steve Creator_Consumer said...

Well said John. Darryl (just like all the other proponents of free) keep saying "all we're asking for is not to pay for uses which are emempt under fair dealing".

Well, the way I see them use "fair dealing" it always ends up meaning free - regardless what the creator wants.

Knopf and Geist wouldn't work for free, so why should us creators?

Darryl said...

Oh Gawd,

So what I actually say doesn't matter because what I really want is just free stuff, and the argument I make is apparently irrelevant.

Steve you are as bad as James Moore berating the "Copyright Radical Extremeists", that say they want fair but really want to eliminate copyright all together.

This is exactly what I mean about not being able to carry on a real debate with you lot. John says it's not his job to clarify (or even identify his statements), when in fact he said nothing at all, and the rest of you simply write off all criticism because "it doesn't matter what they say. what they really want is....."

Truly pathetic.

Steve Creator_Consumer said...

I think James Moore was being polite when he referred to the freeloaders as extremists.

So you know, I actually support certain reasonable fair dealing provisions - however, those provisions cannot allow for thieves to continue to steal intellectual property.

What I think is truly pathetic is that you don't see that your "argument" - which I'm sure is rooted in the logic that "the rights of consumers should trump the rights of creators" is inherently flawed. If the rights of the creators can be trumped by the consumers, then how does a creator make a living?

We live in a Capitalist society so creators need to have the tools to make a living - otherwise, we might as well tell them to give up creating and become a professor or lawyer. Based on the stats John has presented, looks like U of O may aleady be paying too much to their staff.

Darryl said...

Steve, James Moore was refering to ALL his critics as extremists. I guess that means you see everyone who disagrees with this bill or aspects of this bill, as freeloaders.

It is too bad you don't actually take take the time to understand the arguments being made either against aspects of Bill C-32 or against this latest money grab by AC. Then at least you wouldn't have to rely on unintelligent assumptions about where arguments are "rooted".

There is little point in talking to you lot. You ignore all rational debate and your responses reveal totally irrational assumptions. Criticism which should demand that AC justify their criteria for basing this increase in fees, instead brings out all the Chicken Littles on sites like this claiming that the critics are trying to destroy their livelihood.

I suppose as debating strategies go though. When your position is totally baseless, to turn around and start accusing your opponent of having ulterior goals of destroying you, is a good move. You can ignore their rational arguments and put them on the defensive at the same time. So I guess thinking about it that way, you may not be as dumb as you appear.

John said...


I respect that you have opinions opposed to almost all professional creators and members of the cultural sector on issues of copyright and collective licensing.

You have spent, literally, years trying to disrupt nuanced conversation on this blog with little more than a few practiced talking points from Lawrence Lessig and Michael Geist.

You are, in my opinion, almost always factually wrong in your assertions -- the Knopf blog title/Access Copyright name fallacy is a great example, as is today's assertion that federal Heritage Minister James Moore referred to ALL his critics as radical extremists (an embellishment you are also borrowing from Michael Geist).

It is, believe me, extremely tempting to call you names and disparage your intelligence, and I've had plenty of opportunity considering your near-permanent residence here in my comments section.

All that said, when a new visitor arrives and expresses an opinion, do you think you could try to keep cheap personal attacks out of your responses?

If you are not finding enough here of what you define as rational, intelligent debate that does not spin wild conspiracy theories about ulterior motives, the comments section at is always open to you. I believe right now over there they are deep into a scholarly debate about how C-32 represents the beginnings of fascism in Canada.

Darryl said...

"You are, in my opinion, almost always factually wrong in your assertions -- the Knopf blog title/Access Copyright name fallacy is a great example, as is today's assertion that federal Heritage Minister James Moore referred to ALL his critics as radical extremists (an embellishment you are also borrowing from Michael Geist)."

So it is obvious you didn't actually hear the speech then.

Here's a link that might help.

I'm sorry John, I did not start the cheap personal attacks. That was done by the various posters on this site who are calling all the opponents of AC in this case 'freeloaders', theives, and 'pirates'. They, and you, have yet to actually speak to the points raised by Knopf and Geist. Instead you choose to liberally throw these inciting labels around.

Please make an intelligent comment or two on the actual subject rather then your perceptions of the other person's motives, and you might not get as many smart remarks.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tip John. I did visit as you suggested.

There are a lot more comments to wade through. The sheer volume over there can be intimidating, but frankly the ratio of thoughtful comments to emotionally based comments is better than here. There is more information, and viewpoints, for my personal consideration.

I did find the relatively few comments on fascism, but it looks like that line of discussion would have quickly died away, until you took personal offence.

At any rate, thanks again for the tip.

John said...

And round and round we go.

Darryl, there isn't an intelligent, unbiased person in the world who could watch that video and conclude James Moore is making a general statement about all his critics. He qualifies and explains his comments about ten times.

The "radical extremist" scandal created by Geist is nothing more than yellow journalism, and not even particularly entertaining yellow journalism.

It is exactly this kind of ridiculous sensationalism that has so undermined genuine reform. That, and the hypocritical apologizing for sensationalism... thank you, anonymous.

Darryl said...

"Darryl, there isn't an intelligent, unbiased person in the world who could watch that video and conclude James Moore is making a general statement about all his critics."

Well, on that I guess we'll have to disagree. None the less, discussing it has at least saved the various writer/collective rights advocates in this tread from actually having to discuss the "real cost" of the AC tariff which is being proposed.

Not having to discuss the legitimacy of claiming rights for web links, and non-mechanical reproductions, and the various other contentious parts of this tariff, must be quite a relief for you lot.

Yes you can all thank each other for the various "thoughtful comments" regarding how incredibly affordable this proposal of ACs is, and how generous AC is, and how horrible any person must be who has the gull to criticize them after cashing their cheque. Oh yes, there is so much "more information, and viewpoints" over here.

Pieter Hulshoff said...

Dear John,

Darryl, there isn't an intelligent, unbiased person in the world who could watch that video and conclude James Moore is making a general statement about all his critics.

Be sure to mention this to Justin Trudeau next time you speak to him, will you? :) I think Moore was very clear in his opinion, but I guess I'm either not intelligent or biased as well.

John said...


You're plenty intelligent.