Saturday, November 24, 2012

fair (?) dealing in Canada's colleges

On November 12th, 2012, the Association of Canadian Community Colleges began a cross-country series of seminars designed to teach their members the details of a new "fair dealing" policy.  I joined a couple of members of The Writers' Union of Canada as they attempted to air their views during that initial seminar, in Toronto, in an airport hotel meeting room. As you can see in the video below, "fair dealing" in Canadian community colleges does not involve actually talking with writers about what they think is fair.

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer, a Canadian novelist, short fiction writer and - interestingly enough - a writing instructor at the post-secondary level, was not even allowed to introduce herself to the assembled college admin. When we attempted to hand out The Writers' Union of Canada's statement on fair dealing, we were blocked from doing so and the papers taken from us.

Hal Niedzviecki, another Canadian writer, also a writing instructor at the post-secondary level, founder of Broken Pencil magazine (a journal that has launched the careers of hundreds of Canadian artists) and the editor of TWUC's quarterly Write magazine came along to document our attempt at discussion.

We even offered to pay the $125 (per person) fee the ACCC was charging for their seminar, and still we were removed by security.

The new ACCC policy is the result of extremely broad and, I believe, incorrect interpretation of both the Copyright Modernization Act and a recent Supreme Court of Canada decision. It is not based in settled law, and will result in lost income for Canada's writers and publishers.The main aim of the new policy is to allow Canadian community colleges to stop paying collective licence fees for the use of Canadian writing in their classrooms. The policy declares that traditionally licensed copying - the use of entire chapters of Canadian work in course pack collections - is suddenly perfectly fair and free and need not be paid for. Those uses represent millions of dollars of annual royalty income for Canada's writers.

The ACCC charged their own members $125 each to learn how to use the work of Canadian writers for free (strict legality not included).

Word is the latest round of Access Copyright royalty payments have just recently gone out to writers.  I know from personal experience, as a working dad with a mortgage and bills to pay, that the AC cheque usually comes at a perfect time and is very welcome indeed.

But, as the video above clearly illustrates, Canadian writers aren't just fighting for their hard-earned incomes. We're fighting to be heard. Free culture advocates love to wrap anti-copyright policy suggestions in the rhetoric of freedom and access. Ironically fitting, then, that the ACCC would hold their free culture seminar the day after Remembrance Day.

On November 12th, 2012, freedom meant writers were free to be removed by security, and access meant writers were allowed access only to the airport parking lot (for a fee).

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PLEASE - if you are as offended as I am by the idea that a free exchange of ideas is not allowed within Canada's Community colleges, share this video as widely as possible.

Thanks to The Writers' Union of Canada National Council for authorizing the production of this video. If you are a book author in Canada and not a member of TWUC, now would be a great time to join and include your voice in the ongoing discussion about writers' rights.

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