Globe and Mail columnist Kate Taylor published an article on Friday titled Concordia University Caught on the Wrong Side of Copyright, which focused on a copyright violation at the Montreal-based university. While Taylor thinks that the Concordia incident demonstrates the problems with copyright and fair dealing (she writes “scofflaws in the universities have been egged on in Canada by the 2012 amendments to the Copyright Act that included a vaguely worded, broad-brush education exemption), a closer look suggests that the case actually says far more about the problems with collective licensing.
The issue at Concordia involved unauthorized scanning and online posting of several poetry books (I will have a follow-up post on the scanning issue). Once the publishers complained, the books were quickly removed. The director of the centre responsible for the posting acknowledged the error and indicated that he planned to purchase five copies of each book, which is equal to the number of graduate students who attend a weekly reading group. That would seem to be the end of the issue as no one suggests that the posting of the entire books were permitted or consistent with university policy, the issue was addressed immediately, and there was an attempt to compensate for the perceived losses.
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The Federal Court of Appeal has issued its ruling in the judicial review of the Copyright Board’s ruling involving copying in Canadian K-12 schools. The decision is the latest in a growing number of decisions that have all adopted the same, flexible approach to fair dealing. Access Copyright has spent years (and millions of dollars) losing challenges on what was readily apparent from the Supreme Court of Canada’s 2012 copyright pentalogy: the value of the Access Copyright licence is very limited in light of authorized copying and fair dealing.
The Copyright Board of Canada decision on the application of fair dealing to educational copying, granted a tariff of $2.46 per student for 2010-2012 and $2.41 for 2013-2015. That rate is not only far lower than Access Copyright had demanded, but is nearly half of what was previously certified for the period from 2005-2009 (which was set at $4.81). The Board minced no words in explaining the reduction:
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As students across Canada head back to school this week, the Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL), which represents 31 member libraries, issued a reminder that Canadian education spends hundreds of millions of dollars every year on content licensing. Access Copyright and the publishing community have tried to paint the Canadian situation as a free-for-all, but the reality is that educational institutions, libraries, and students are still buying books and licensing content. In fact, recent U.S. data shows that textbook costs are increasing far faster than any other education cost.
The CARL release states:
The 31 member libraries of the Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL) spent $293 million on information resources in 2014-15, demonstrating a clear commitment to accessing print and digital content legally and rewarding content owners accordingly. Universities are actively engaged in outreach to their faculty, staff, and students, educating them on their rights and responsibilities under the Copyright Act and ensuring that uses of material under copyright fall well within the provisions of the law. Where educational uses are more substantive and therefore fall outside of fair dealing, the content is either purchased to be added to licensed collections, or rights clearances are obtained and royalties are paid for these uses. Trained, knowledgeable library staff support these activities.
Some voices in the publishing community and associated lobbyists have stated in the media that the education market has evaporated as a result of users’ fair dealing rights. This is inaccurate. Universities continue to buy and to license access to published works, at substantial cost, using public funds and student tuition dollars.
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In recent weeks, there has been some media coverage claiming that Canadian educational materials are disappearing in the face of copyright fair dealing rules. For example, several weeks ago, Globe and Mail writer Kate Taylor wrote a column on copyright featuring the incendiary headline that “Kids Will Suffer if Canada’s Copyright Legislation Doesn’t Change.” This week, the CBC provided coverage of a writer’s conference panel with a piece titled “Copyright-free material edging out Canadian texts” that speaks of sales falling off a cliff.
These articles are the latest shots in the battle launched by Canadian publisher and writer groups against fair dealing. The campaign includes regular meetings with Members of Parliament from all parties (speak to almost any MP and they will tell you that they have heard horror stories about Canadian copyright), international letter writing campaigns, and commissioned studies that feature unsubstantiated claims about the state of licensing revenues in Canada (the PWC study comes with the caveat that “we provide no opinion, attestation or other form of assurance with respect to the results of this Assessment”).
While there have been some notable responses from people such as Meera Nair, many copyright watchers have remained largely silent, perhaps assuming that the reliance on false rhetoric will fail to find an audience. It is true that the claims have fallen flat with key independent decision makers such as the Supreme Court of Canada, the Copyright Board of Canada, and the Australian government’s Productivity Commission, but the persistent rhetoric could lead to an inaccurate view of Canadian copyright just as a review of the law is planned for 2017.
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The Honourable William Vancise, the former Chair of the Copyright Board of Canada, recently delivered a combative (and entertaining) speech at an ALAI conference in which he took the critics of the board head on. Although the conference was focused on the future of the Copyright Board, many lawyers who regularly appear before the board seemed reluctant to air their concerns in public. Instead, it fell to Vancise to liven the proceedings. The board has posted the speech online and it is well worth a read. I was in the audience and came in for criticism for this 2013 article titled It’s Time to Admit the Copyright Board is Broken.
Vancise reserved his strongest criticism for Music Canada and its lobbying campaign against Tariff 8:
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