The Access Copyright tariff proposal that calls for a 1300% increase in fees to $45 per full-time student has generated some interesting discussion. I noted in one of my responses that my courses only use openly accessible materials – court cases, statutes, government reports, and open access licenced articles. This comes without any loss in the quality of materials and without the need for further payment or permissions. I don’t think this is particuarly unusual for law, which relies heavily on these kinds of materials in addition to textbooks purchased by students and works in databases that are separately licenced. The amount of additional copying in that environment that falls outside private study or research such that it requires a licence is tiny to non-existent. Indeed, the inclusion of education as a fair dealing category would not change a great deal for thousands of Canadian law students.
While fairness dictates that Canadian education must object to the Access Copyright tariff proposal to ensure that students are not asked to pay for uses that the law says do not require compensation, it may be time for the post-secondary education community to ask whether it should walk away from Access Copyright altogether. Note that I am not saying that creators should go uncompensated and that education should get a free ride. I repeat that it is fair dealing, not free dealing.
Rather, with the prospect of such a dramatic increase in costs, education must self-assess to determine whether it actually needs these licences or whether individual licences with the authors (or copyright holder) where needed makes more sense. This would be true for anyone facing a demand for a 1300% increase in costs. How many faculties are similar to law in their ability to use open access licenced materials? How many courses rely on public domain materials? How many courses rely heavily on recently published research that is available under open access? How many courses limit materials primarily to textbooks that are purchased by students and not copied? How many rely on works found in databases that are licenced separately? How much of the Access Copyright repertoire contains works that are copied and fall outside of all this? What is the cost – beyond the full-time student cost in the tariff proposal – of the onerous reporting requirements?
My guess is that a growing number of faculties and courses make very little use of the Access Copyright licence. Their students purchase copyright works as courses require, use licenced databases, copy independent materials for research purposes, or make copies for private study purposes. None of this requires an additional licence. If this is the case, universities need to think seriously about walking away from Access Copyright and moving toward individually licenced works where the need dictates (in addition to the purchases of texts and database licencing). Negotiating with individual authors or publishers for the rights to a single work may be cumbersome, but so too are the reporting requirements Access Copyright is demanding. Moreover, individual negotiations hold the advantage of potential costs savings and ensuring that the actual authors receive full compensation for the use of their works. In other words, win-win for both creators and users.