Wednesday, February 01, 2012

getting down to business

Last evening, at York University's fantastic Schulich School of Business in downtown Toronto I gave an hour-long presentation on Canadian copyright reform and the attack on the cultural industries by free-culture theorists. It was a summary of the history of reform attempts over the last decade, and a reiteration of some of the basic concepts behind the fight that don't always reach the layperson.

I am, of course, a layperson myself (not being a lawyer); but I hope I'm an informed layperson, since copyright and the fight to bring Canada's Copyright Act up to digital speed has been a focus of my professional work for twenty years at least. The class was full of future arts managers (maybe... you know, if there's still a cultural industry for them to graduate into) who listened with great interest, and asked penetrating questions. Every time I give one of these presentations, I'm reminded that copyright is both more complex and far more simple than it can appear, and that when folks are presented with the realities of the topic, as opposed to theory, they tend to get it.

Today, university students across Canada are marching in their respective cities, voicing their concerns about the rising cost of education and the very design of post-secondary schooling. As they do so, no doubt Canada's free culture activists will try to whisper in their ears, telling them that copyright is one of the major factors in their rising costs. After all, didn't the University of Toronto and the University of Western Ontario just agree to a new $27.50 per student fee for the use of copyright-protected materials in their classrooms?

Reality, as opposed to theory:

As I've shown in past postings on this blog, the license fees for blanket copyright clearance in Canada's universities and colleges represents a minuscule fraction of the budgets of our schools. Think of it this way: for every $100 a student (or a student's parent) pays for university tuition, about 12 cents would go to a licensing arrangement such as the one signed by U of T and Western this week.

By contrast, $56 out of the $100 in tuition fees would go to paying staff and faculty salaries.*

So, 12 cents to those creating a large portion of the educational resources, 56 dollars to those delivering the resources.

Follow the money:

There is consternation in Canada's free culture community today because of the license-signing by U of T and Western. Lawyer, Howard Knopf has dramatically labeled the signing a "capitulation" to Access Copyright. This wording pulls back the curtain on how free culture really views professional cultural creators. By creating culture, we are somehow attacking it.

Western professor and prominent free culturist Sam Trosow also strikes a mournful tone when he notes that his own employer has set back the free culture agenda:
"...the UWO/UofT abandonment of the opposition to the tariff could substantially undermine ongoing efforts of other institutions and educational groups who are objecting to the proposed tariff at the Copyright Board..."
And, interestingly, Canada's head free-culturist, University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist has stayed mostly silent on the topic of the license agreement, pointing instead to his colleagues' blogs for commentary. This is a bit odd, since Geist is widely regarded as the energetic force behind the recent attack on Access Copyright and, indeed, the very concept of collective licensing in the educational environment.

Since this is a day for examining the money in education, it's probably worth noting that both Trosow and Geist make base salaries large enough to place them on Ontario's publicly available compensation list. Geist appears to be making close to $135,000 a year, while Trosow clocks in at a more modest $118,000.

(click on the images above to enlarge)

You won't find too many, if any, working professional artists on the same list, or even in the same salary bracket in Ontario. The average earnings for a working artist in Canada have most recently been calculated** at $23,500 per annum.

Am I saying our professors, administrators and other educators are not worth the portion of the budget they represent? No, I'm not. I think Canada has some of the best post-secondary educators in the world and they deserve to be paid well.

Canada also has some of the world's most talented cultural creators, and they also deserve their place within the educational pie chart, however small a place that may be.

*Numbers based on previous calculation comparing proposed $45 per student copyright tariff and the 2007 University of Ottawa budget.

**Artist earnings drawn from a 2009 Hill Strategies Report.

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Sandy Crawlry said...

Over the fence and out of the park John!

John said...

To the rude folks who keep trying to post here saying that various aspects of fair dealing should cover this license (with an "s" - that's my respect for the U.S. coming through) territory, you're simply wrong, and Howard Knopf is wrong. The "research" category of fair dealing does not extend to teaching in a classroom setting.

If you have questions about how Access Copyright can provide an indemnity, why don't you go ask Access Copyright?

Same goes for their "chain of title." It's kind of dumb for Knopf to bloviate about works AC can't cover when he doesn't bother to ascertain which works they claim to cover.

Finally, for the last time, "available on the web" and "available for use outside copyright considerations" are two very different things. Start with that understanding, learn to speak politely, and then try commenting again.