Brian Brett, the former Chair of the Writers’ Union of Canada and an award winning author, has issued an explosive public letter that “breaks the ‘cone of silence’ that has obscured for too long some of the ugly practices of Access Copyright.” Brett is concerned with copyright reform, but even more troubled by Access Copyright’s activities:
1. After its expenses (which are high – spending approximately $10 million to collect $23.5 million in distributable income), there is $23.5 million in money for copyright distribution. Over $6 million dollars go to foreign copyright organizations. Very little, if anything, is paid back for usage of Canadian copyright material by these organizations.
2. Access Copyright only acquires this $23.5 million by claiming to represent creators and publishers, and that paying them means supporting creators. Access Copyright then pays more than $13 million to publishers. It only pays $4.2 million to actual creators. Their remaining income, is supposed to be distributed by the publishers to their authors, according to how the publishers read their contracts. There is no evidence of this payment occurring since Access Copyright refuses to allow an independent auditing of this income. Effectively, this money has been ‘disappeared.’
3. Access Copyright refuses to distribute, through its “Payback” program, to creators, income from works older than twenty years, yet it continues to collect that income in their name.
4. Access Copyright continues to pay publishers the income for works whose rights have reverted totally to the authors.
5. According to current legislation Access Copyright is now allowed to give an indemnity to educational institutions that are sued by writers not affiliated with Access Copyright, covering their legal expenses if an independent writer should sue them. However, the writer will not be able to charge what they believe their work is worth. They will be restricted to the paltry amount that Access Copyright is currently paying to writers. This means that AC arbitrarily decides for independent authors the value of their work.
6. Access Copyright rewards textbook companies who demand that authors relinquish their copyright to their work by paying them both the publisher and creator copyright payment. Academic authors often consider textbook authorship crucial to tenure. Thus academic authors are open to being pressured by publishers out of their copyright. In effect Access Copyright is encouraging textbook publishers to undermine copyright by demanding a creators’ total copyright, and doubling the publisher’s payment for this ugly practice.
7. Access Copyright, rather than paying out unassigned money to creators as a reward for affiliation, has created a grant foundation that makes awards to a very few writers with funds collected in everyone’s name. Why are the earnings of all writers being converted into grants to a few without our permission?
8. While publishers clearly profit from the current situation, it is actually not their fault. The problem is structural within Access Copyright — its constitution and the make-up of its board, and the anti-creator policies it has chosen to adopt over the years.
Brett concludes that he can no longer advocate for Access Copyright. Instead, he raises the prospect of a class action lawsuit by “writers against Access Copyright, which has been collecting our money in our names and yet failing to deliver that income equitably and transparently.”