Last week I raised the question of whether Canadian universities should consider walking away from Access Copyright in light of its recent tariff demands. The post did not reject licencing, but rather noted that the combined effect of openly accessible materials, licenced databases, and fair dealing was such that the Access Copyright licence may not be necessary for many professors. Where there is a need for a specific work that is not otherwise available, it could be directly licenced with the copyright holder, thereby ensuring that the actual author receives full compensation for their work. In the post, I used myself an example, noting that I am able to rely on openly accessible materials for my courses.
The fact that I rely on openly accessible materials led Access Copyright supporter John Degen to describe my approach as a “shockingly arbitrary and irresponsible policy that will only place artificial (and highly political) limits on education.” Degen then implies that the choice is based on attempting to find cheap materials or ones that are consistent with my political leanings.
Yet the only thing irresponsible is Degen’s effort to link cost with quality.
In my course, I use court cases, statutes, government reports, policy submissions, and academic articles. These are all materials that are openly accessible either because of government policy or because the authors’ priority is to make their works available, not generate income directly from their academic scholarship. It is hard to understand how asking students to read the Supreme Court of Canada CCH case or the Copyright Act or the CRTC’s Internet traffic management decision or the National Task Force on Spam report is irresponsible.
Indeed from a legal education perspective, there seems to be little, if any, use for an Access Copyright licence. Cases and statutes form the foundation of many courses and they are all openly accessible. In addition to purchased texts, all students have licenced access to legal databases that provide comprehensive coverage of the law, including primary (caselaw, statutes) and secondary (scholarship) materials. There is just isn’t much left for Access Copyright to licence to thousands of law students.
I don’t know if this is consistent with other fields, but my sense is that the reliance on the Access Copyright licence – both for ordinary copying and for “coursepacks” – is declining. Cross-country licensing such as the Canadian Research Knowledge Network provide licenced database access to thousands of journals for 650,000 university researchers and students. Coursepacks are giving way to database-generated course reading lists that build on this form of licenced access. Beyond licenced databases, the growth of open access now means that there are over 5,000 open access journals and about 20 percent of the world’s peer reviewed journals are open access. In many scientific areas, openly available e-prints is the standard – arXiv.org provides open access to over 620,000 articles in fields such as physics, mathematics, and computer science. PubMedCentral provides access to millions of biomedical and life sciences articles. The Social Sciences Research Network is used by thousands of professors in social sciences fields to make their work freely available to the world. The movement toward open educational resources and open data for science only add to the open availability of cutting edge materials that are the very best in their field.
Reliance on these works is neither irresponsible nor a function of seeking cheaper “minor league” material. Supporters of Access Copyright often claim that they support the right of an author to choose where they publish and under what terms they make their work available. Yet when researchers make their work freely available, it is derided as a cheap alternative. This shows a deep misunderstanding of how higher education works and how the dissemination and use of research is rapidly evolving toward open access.