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Access Copyright Responds: So Much For Getting the Facts Straight

Access Copyright has posted a two-page response to my recent series of blog postings (transactional licensing, economics of the collective, future reforms, all three posts in single PDF) titled “Let’s Get the Facts Straight on Access Copyright.” Unfortunately, as has become typical for an organization that based its advocacy strategy on Bill C-32 on misleading claims about fair dealing in an effort to “break throughbeyond talk of digital locks and levies, the document contains very few facts to address its transparency and financial concerns.

The key post in my series involved a look at the economics of Access Copyright with the goal of ascertaining how much of the revenue collected in 2010 was distributed to Canadian authors. Those numbers should be easy to find, but they are not. Access Copyright points to its total distribution in 2010, which was $23.3 million. Yet this does not set the record straight. First, this global amount was distributed to all publishers and authors, both Canadian and foreign. Second, this figure draws from both the 2010 revenues and the balance entering the year, which stood at $29.5 million. How much of the 2010 distribution came from 2010 revenues? How much went to Canadian authors? Access Copyright still isn’t saying.

The document also claims that I do not “recognize that creators and publishers deserve to be compensated when their works are used, irrespective of where they live.” This is simply untrue. My post did not claim that foreign authors and publishers should not be compensated. Rather, the point was that they are compensated and that their compensation – estimated at 20 percent of revenues but Access Copyright still won’t publicly confirm the precise figure – should be deducted when calculating how much Canadian authors received from the collective.

The document then seeks to address two related issues – Access Copyright administrative costs (which it says are reasonable) and board compensation (which it says is modest). Given that its costs are far higher than virtually any other collective in Canada – it retains some of the most expensive lawyers in the country, has ventured into costly initiatives such as the ill-fated Captain Copyright program, and engaged in extensive government lobbying – I’ll leave it for others to decide if 25 percent administrative costs are reasonable. On the issue of director compensation, Access Copyright still won’t say what the compensation actually is in its reply document. We do know that over $300,000 was spent last year on travel, meetings, staff and directors’ costs.

Finally, Access Copyright defends its fairness and transparency approach, pointing to the Writers’ Union of Canada motion as evidence that the debate is ongoing. That motion explicitly states that Access Copyright is unable to fully and effectively represent creators’ copyright interests. Of course, the only votes in opposition to the motion came from Access Copyright board members, so it may not welcome the debate as much as it suggests. Transparency is ultimately about actions, not words. Access Copyright claims to have a strong and principled commitment to transparency, yet the ongoing questions about distributions, foreign RRO compensation, director compensation, author/publisher splits, genre distribution, and much more remain unanswered. So much for getting the facts straight.

28 Comments

  1. “the only votes in opposition to the motion came from Access Copyright board members”

    Wow, really? Well, how does that square with “a small group of TWUC members making old, unreasonable objections to AC”?

    This quote from Degen is also interesting. “Specifically, if we look at director honoraria and expenses, I’d wager that creator nominees on the Board collect the majority of the money. ”

    I guess since he is guess, he is agreeing with you that “Access Copyright still won’t say what the compensation actually is”

    “How much of the 2010 distribution came from 2010 revenues? ”
    “How much went to Canadian authors?”

    I’ll admit I haven’t gone through their financial documents. Is it really true though that they do not answer these two fairly fundamental questions?

    John, perhaps you could educate some of us plebes with some real information and facts on these issues.

  2. The distribution policies explain that typically they distribute in one year mostly what was collected in the previous year. This is because the data needed to identify recipients usually lags revenue by several months. I don’t see anything disingenuous in that arrangement.

    In most countries, copyright collectives function in the same way as AC. In most countries, both writers and publishers manage to work together, despite different perspectives. In Canada likewise. But only in Canada do you have TWUC, which is profoundly unrepresentative of most Canadian authors, most of whom choose to belong to other organizations. Probably less than 10% of AC author members are members of TWUC. This is more a reflection of the ungovernable TWUC, which has been whining about AC since 1989, than about AC.

    AC should probably supply more details on some of these matters. On director compensation, if it’s included in $300,000 spent on meeting costs, staff travel, director travel and honoraria, it can hardly amount to much. My guess is that most of it went to writer-directors.

    The 18-member Board is certainly too large. I was at the AGM a few years back when TWUC voted against a reduction.

  3. ?!?
    @Bob: the fact that such anti-piracy outfits work pretty much the same everywhere doesn’t mean they are doing it right. Slavery was pretty much accepted ‘worldwide’. TWUC might be smaller than some blockbuster outfits but that’s precisely what makes their claims more valuable. Authors and artists that are well known and good sellers won’t be affected by shady schemes from any outfit. And it’s been said by those very same anti-piracy outfits that money recouped from lawsuits is reinvested in anti-piracy efforts instead of going to the artists. Food for thought?

    @Darryl: agreed. If TWUC weren’t the only ones that voted against then there might be something wrong there. The fact that AC refuses to provide crystal clear numbers and answers to the questioning is most worrying. It’s not uncommon to see that labels/studios/etc and anti-piracy outfits are not in touch with the wishes of the creators.

  4. Bill MacEachern says:

    Keep at them , ProfG
    The fact that they feel the need to issue this whitewash of a smokescreen is evidence that you’re making them squirm.

  5. @Bill
    If he was making them squirm, they’d either have done nothing or put out more detail.

  6. Darryl,

    While your comment is almost impossible to read, let me respond to the parts that retain some sort of grammatical integrity:

    The sentence you quote me writing: “Specifically, if we look at director honoraria and expenses, I’d wager that creator nominees on the Board collect the majority of the money. ” Yeah, I didn’t write that.

    If you’ve ever attended an Annual General Meeting of an association – and I have attended many — you would know that “a vote for a motion to investigate, blah, blah, blah” does not represent a policy decision on the part of the association. It absolutely does NOT mean that a majority of TWUC members or even a majority of the voting delegates at the meeting agree with all or any of the points moved. It is simply a good faith agreement to allow an investigation to satisfy those complaining. I’ve heard this discussion go around and around at writer meetings and AC affiliate get-togethers for a decade. The (tiny) core group of complainers has never presented a reasoned argument for distribution change, and I doubt very much they can come up with one now.

    The only thing I’m sure Darryl has ever been right about in his endless attempts to say something factual over here is that he has not actually read the documents he seems to have formed a strong opinion about. That seems perfectly in character and emblematic of the argumentative rigour here in Geistville.

  7. Unwritten says:

    Hm?
    @Bob
    No, if someone says something that can be dismissed then they do nothing. If there is even a fraction of truth that can make things uncomfortable for someone doing naughty things is when they start rolling out the FUD. If they can’t disguise the truth then it’s better to make things even more confusing by giving misleading hints that misdirect from the real truth.

    They can’t risk simply doing nothing and putting out more detail, if they really are doing what Prof. Geist says (or worse), would likely make things worse for them.

  8. @Bob
    If MG wasn’t making them squirm, than why put out a release that attacks him. I guess the AC board Members didn’t read up on this article from 2010:

    http://bit.ly/jvouz2

    Essentially by not releasing the missing information, AC is shooting itself in the foot, and blaming MG for it. Speaks volumes towards the management of the board at AC.

  9. @Degen
    And the funniest thing about all this is that clearly none of the Geisters even know what TWUC is, far less have they ever read a book written by a member of TWUC. This may be why they are siding with a group of people whose books are rarely copied in schools and universities.

    And one of the many silly things said is that AC is somehow wrong to use good lawyers. What are they supposed to do? Hire bad lawyers?

    Personally I’d like AC to publish a full list of all payouts to TWUC members. Given that they’ve decried what they claim is secrecy, they could hardly complain. It would show how irrelevant most of their writing is to the sectors licensed by AC, and how amazingly stupid they are to enlist the help of a highly-paid professor whose agenda couldn’t be more damaging to their interests.

  10. Sunshine law says:

    The average TWUC member makes less than $25,000 a year from writing. Professor Geist’s 2010 salary was $134,776 and presumably topped up fees for broadcasting, writing and other outside work.

  11. captain copyright
    “…has ventured into costly initiatives such as the ill-fated Captain Copyright program…”

    Oh dear! We really are reaching when we have to go back to 2004 for an example of corporate ineptitude.

    Let’s get back to the economics. Exactly how much money, from where is going to be distributed to authors in Mikey’s future program?

    Last I heard the master plan was to: stop payments from educational institutions to creators and collectives; thereby protecting Mikey’s salary.

    Mikey? Got any economics for us other than a vague “we’ll all prosper in the digital future!”

  12. Colin McInnes says:

    Wow James, got an axe to grind?

    If Access Copyright is serious about respecting authors rights, and promises transparency about ensuring that artists get properly compensated, then why the foot-dragging when it comes to being open and up-front about how much artists are being compensated? What do they have to hide? Other than the fact that they are collecting a legal “war chest” for lobbying for tighter rules, instead of actually paying out royalties…

    If they’re not a slush fund, then they should open up the books.

  13. Hey Geist…youa are such a stupid critic. I aggree with Access Copyright article that you have reading problem!!!!!!
    By the way, all the user synonom you are using for coment kind carry your writing style. I expect you do do little better job on this.

    Ted

  14. Dack Hoober says:

    Access Copyright are a corrupt organization. I cringe every time I buy a spindle of CDRs.

  15. Crockett says:

    So many acronyms …
    @Dack

    I don’t think it’s AC that is causing your CDR cringe but rather the CPCC [Canadian Private Copying Collective].

    This may make you twitch though ūüėČ

    http://www.michaelgeist.ca/content/view/5798/125/

  16. French
    Ted, it’s called English. Nous pouvons aussie parler en francais si vous le desirez? Any similarities is just because we’re an old community who spend alot of time reading and writing comments about the same topics. We’re bound to start picking up similar sentence structure and vocabulary. Now something interesting is that you are actually allowed to comment on this site without prejudice or registration. That’s called being open. Think A.C. would let critical comments like those found above post up on their site?

  17. Apparently being open is too hard, they’d rather just attack people that try to make the accusations actually go away by proving them wrong.

    And far to many people against Dr. Giest generally seem to equate moving away from AC to not wanting to have to pay for anything again, rather than just moving away from AC and finding a different way to license works. This generally does nothing but confuse the issues rather than actually try to address the points that come up against AC. It’s a distraction tactic so that people don’t actually have to address points brought up.

  18. Yes, this is suddenly all about Access Copyright not being “open and transparent,” instead of being about the fact that Michael Geist has based his entire series of complaints against Access Copyright on his own inept and incorrect reading of their annual report.

    The lesson here is… when all else fails, start accusing your target of not being open and transparent – even if all the figures you need are published and available.

    Hey, how come the financial statements on the University of Ottawa site don’t break down exactly how much money Michael Geist brings into the institution by way of the Canada Research Chair position, where that money goes, Geist’s own salary and how much (little) is being paid to the crew of graduate students who run his research department for the blog?

    What is the professor hiding?

  19. @Degan
    Hey, it’s all in the tone of the response. If the ton was more inclined to be “Hey, this is where you were wrong.” and showed more willingness to discuss the issues and come to a clear understanding, then that would be fine and make it seem like there’s less truth to what he’s posted. Instead, the tone they take is one of attack, which really makes it look like they have something to hide somewhere because they are spending more time trying to discredit his viewpoint than show where he got the information wrong.

    For example, their entire two point should never have been added to their response. And to be frank, you’re not helping at all.

  20. @Degan
    I can also way that I realise you can say that Dr. Giest is doing the same thing, and that would be your viewpoint. The problem is that their response isn’t going to convince anyone who happens to agree with him that they he may be wrong about AC, and instead helps to further his viewpoint to those who may have been more sitting on the sidelines and not overly having an opinion on who is and is not more right. If the point of the reply was to assuage the view of people who may believe him, it might have done it for some, but for less than if they had taken a less antagonistic viewpoint.

    Now I suppose you could say that nothing they could do would do that, but that would be taking a poor point of view and insulting people because you think that they can’t make up their own mind based on information presented. Though given your posts here, that seems to be fine with you as well.

    And no, I’m not going to address the useless distraction tactic of taking about how much he makes, or how open Ottawa U is because that really has nothing to do with the topic at hand, which is Access Copyright.

  21. @Degen
    I think it’s safe to say that if you are receiving payments from AC John, MG makes more than you and so do a lot of other people including those that AC employs. Trumpet that creative voice there Degen..you are doing wonders in defending the pay cheques of creators on here.

  22. Unwritten says:

    Yeah… we believe you…
    @Degan
    Calling someone’s blog ‘inept’ and suddenly accusing them of shadowy practices without hard proof? Looks like someone was reading my previous post.

    If Prof. Geist is wrong, stating why he is wrong in polite and intelligent manner will get you more support. Posting the way you did lacks credibility.

  23. Jeff Power says:

    How much were Canadian Authors paid last year
    Until we can answer that question is there any true transparency?

  24. Unwritten,

    You are mistaken about the suddenness of my response. I’ve been convinced of Geist’s shadowy practices and ineptitude for years now, and have stated my opinion here many times. Incidentally, I can’t recall a single instance when my accusations have been proven incorrect. There’s just been a lot of name-calling and diversion.

    In a financial analysis, Geist got the numbers wrong. What more hard proof do you need?

    Jeff,

    Authors are paid royalties directly from the creator splits, and indirectly through their contractual agreements with publishers (another fact Geist likes to underplay in his analysis). In other words, they get money from both the creator AND publisher distributions.

    As those contracts are private, there is, I would assume, no way for Access Copyright to be “transparent” about the number you seek.

    So, if a proposal for a 50/50 (creator/publisher) split across the board – which is the heart of the proposal from this small band of unsatisfied affiliates – were to actually go through, royalty revenues that would normally go directly to a deserving authors through contractual agreement would be sent instead to a creator pool to be divided among other authors who did not earn it.

    Does no-one else see the irony of Geist using THAT scheme as the core of his “fairness and transparency” attack on Access Copyright?

  25. @Jeff
    To add to Degen’s comment, Dr Geist based his numbers on a report which admitted that it did not address the issues surrounding the ownership of the copyright. For instance, the Friedman report itself specifically mentioned that considerations regarding where the author was a full-time employee of the publisher (for instance, does a full-time staff writer at a newspaper have the right to royalties of articles that he/she has written for the paper?) were ignored. Nor does it address any contractual royalty splits. As such, Dr Geist’s numbers are based on a split which has a large margin of error because of the myriad of assumptions. Do the authors get all $23M? No. Are they entitled to all $23M? I would argue no. For instance, the author may have signed over partial royalties in compensation for a fixed advance.

    @Degen: as a Tier 2 chair, the government pays UofO $100K per year for 5 years (renewable once) for Dr Geist. (www.chairs-chaires.gc.ca) Mind you, there are a total of 2000 chair positions. U of O is allocated 73 chair positions.

  26. Thanks Anon-K,

    My point was more of a ‘glass houses, throwing of stones’ kind of thing.

    I’m well aware of what the Canada Research Chair position brings to U of O, and the fact that it is in part paying for the kind of research that results in Dr. Geist reading Access Copyright’s annual report incorrectly.

    I note you went to the CRC website to get the information. If you look at the University of Ottawa’s website, you also learn that U of O received in total $229M in research funding for 2007.

    http://www.report.uottawa.ca/research.php

    That full report to the community does not give a detailed breakdown of the separate amounts in that massive $229M in funding (over ten times the total distribution for Access Copyright last year). Some, including me, would say the general numbers give a clear enough picture of how things are going for Ottawa U (kind of makes one wonder why they’d pass any costs on to students, but that’s for another day).

    Others would rant about Ottawa U’s lack of transparency, and claim this document as part of a nefarious scheme to hide what Ottawa is doing with its money.

  27. pedestrian says:

    Mr Degan is it % percent of the money collected or is it % of the money distributed?
    Does AC have a fixed transaction cost below which it is uneconomic to deliver or does AC use cross subsidy?

    What percentage of gross collection is (for what ever reason) unable to be distributed?

  28. Not The Real John Degen says:

    Surely they could publish
    exactly what amount was paid directly to Canadian Authors (not individually) and that would not have any privacy issues.