Writers’ Union of Canada Chair on Copyright Reform

In a letter to the editor at the Globe, the Erna Paris rejects fair dealing, saying instead "the government must legislate a win-win system of collective licensing."

Update: Note that Ms. Paris has posted a comment in this thread clarifying that the Writers Union does not reject fair dealing as currently found in the law. Rather, "our position is that it must not be expanded in ways that may deprive writers, who are already economically vulnerable, from earning a basic living."


  1. How is this “win-win”????
    More like we win, screw our customers.

  2. Vincent Clement says:

    By “collective licensing” they mean “guaranteed stream of revenue through the coercive power of government”.

  3. Bob Morris says:

    what they mean is getting paid for their work, kind of like everyone else

  4. @Bob
    While I support the idea that they should be paid, the idea of a “collective license” is to me not unlike a levy… It assumes guilt; it guarantees that the rightsholders gets paid, but that the consumer also has to pay for non-infringing activities (sort of like the recordable media levy that I pay on a blank CD that I burn a Linux distribution to, or any software distro that is paid for and downloaded, including some anti-virus software and compilers).

  5. Maupassant says:

    “… getting paid for their work …” whether we want to buy it or not.

  6. Bill Freeman says:

    Chair, Creators Copyright Coalition
    Fair Dealing is the most controversial issue in copyright reform. There are those who advocate that everything on the Internet should be free, and fair dealing should be expanded to allow material under copyright to be distributed free of charge. Some educators and researchers want free access to books and articles written by others, even the works of professional writers. However, the economic interests of academics are very different than professional writers. Academics receive their income from salaries from universities and have little or no interest in royalties. The more a book enhances the reputation of the academic, the more he or she tends to be rewarded financially by the university. Professional writers, on the other hand, cannot afford to give away their writings because it will mean loss of essential income. Fair dealing as it is presently legislated already achieves a balance between creators and users and should be retained. The government should reject this approach and instead bring in legislation that will strengthen collective licensing. Collective licensing will ensure that writers get paid and academics and students have easy access to copyright material. That is the only fair way to resolve the issue of fair dealing

  7. Doreen Pendgracs says:

    freelance writer, author, photographer
    I completely agree with Bill Freeman’s comments. As a self-employed freelance creator of intellectual property, I cannot afford to give away the rights to my work. I cannot afford to work for free. Free does not pay my bills.

  8. @Bill
    I think I may be missing something from your post. Are you stating that the existing Fair Dealing provisions should be kept and Erna Paris’ proposed policy of throwing out Fair Dealing provisions (as I understand it) be rejected? I can support some strengthened collective licensing, so long as it is explicitly negotiated between the groups; I can’t support a collective licensing regime whereby everyone is covered even if they have no need for the work (sort of like a levy). A collective license for academia should also include a requirement that the school educate the student about the fact that once they graduate, they are no longer covered under the collective license; this may include course handouts given them by the instructors.

    The comment provided on the Globe site, however, raises an interesting point. As has been seen for music, for some works, in particular reference material, having it available freely is liable to drive sales. I myself have bought books that way. As a computer programmer, when I was doing some types of programming having access to reference copies was invaluable… to the point where I spent about $500 on a set of my own books so I would always have it available. A later version of one of the book was available on the internet; I’d have paid for a hard copy had it been in print because of the updates.

    I agree that the not-for-profit world of academia and some research is very different from the world that most of us live in. It is different in the way that the IP producers are compensated. In the case of academia, publishing papers can drive salary. For a freelancer, you own the IP and make money from the sales of it. For someone like myself, the IP that I produced is owned by the company I work for and I draw a salary which is paid for by the sales of what I produce. If it doesn’t sell, my salary gets reduced or I get laid off.

  9. Doreen, who’s asking you to “give away the rights to your work”?

    The “rights to your work” do not include the right to estop something that falls under one of the heads of fair dealing. Can you honestly say that fairly-dealt uses of your work would mean the difference in your monthly financial statements? And how have you been able to quantify this?

    I’d like to know how many of Writers Union’s members have licensed every single quotation from someone else’s work that they have used in creating their own. WU members do that, right? Because that’s what their proposal, distilled to its essence, demands that they do.

  10. Erna Paris says:

    Chair, The Writers’ Union o Canada
    Let me clarify a misunderstanding before this goes any further. Neither I, nor the Writers’ Union of Canada, rejects fair dealing as currently enshrined in Canadian law. Fair dealing is as valuable to writers as to anyone else.

    Our position is that it must not be expanded in ways that may deprive writers, who are already economically vulnerable, from earning a basic living.

    We believe that established fair dealing in conjunction with a system of collective licensing is the most balanced way to protect all parties as we move into the electronic age. Collective licensing is already in place in other sectors and has been adopted to protect writers in other countries. Like everyone else, Canada’s writers need to be adequately compensated in order to do their work. I called this “win-win” in my letter, and it is. It is a fair, equitable, and mutually respectful proposal that will, we hope, be supported by many people.

  11. Christian Vandendorpe says:

    A win for some syndicated authors and a loss for taxpayers
    By using the school system as a cash-cow, the Writer’s Union recommends in fact a win for them and a loss for taxpayers.

    I see various reasons why their proposal should be rejected.

    First, the schools already pay a hefty price for textbooks and books in print. Libraries also pay millions every year for books in print and have recently spent 11 million through CRKN for licensing 8000 titles in digital format. Allowing the authors to get paid collective licensing for their works above that would be in many cases double dipping.

    The collective licensing is also unacceptable because it would compensate every published author independently of their effective use in a classroom. As previous comments have already pointed out, it would be a levy.

    And what about the authors from outside Canada? Would they be paid also? Or would they be discriminated against? Under the proposed WU scheme, could Canada avoid being sued by American publishers invoking NAFTA?

    Finally, the publishing world is no longer a uniform system covering in the same way all the creative works done by authors. Some authors want to be downloaded in order to be known as already signalled. Many do self-publishing and put their works online through sites like Google Books, Amazon, Issuu, Scribd and many more. Bloggers are authors too, in a sense, and the notion of authorship is becoming more fluid every day. Where do you draw the line?

  12. factnotfallacy says:

    “win-win” Those were Jim Prentices words as he introduced Bill C-61; he was wrong. Someone always gets the short end of the stick. Usually.. taxpayers and consumers.

  13. Bob Morris says:

    What the Writers Union is saying is that the dealing isn’t fair if hundred or thousands of copies are being made of the same work. And it isn’t fair if you copy more than a small amount of any work. If all of this is tracked and the right people get paid (overseas as well as in Canada) then it isn’t a levy and it isn’t a windfall. Finally, yes schools buy textbooks and if they bought enough for everyone then they wouldn’t need to make copies. They also use a ton of other stuff in the classroom. Nothing else in the education delivery process is free and there is no reason why copying about a billion pages of copyright material a year should somehow be “fair”.

  14. Writers Union Fails to be Clear
    What the Writers Union fails to say at any point is which rights they are demanding.

    I’d be perfectly OK with legislation that forced publishers to stop demanding anything except 1st North American publishing rights unless there were some statutory minimum fees aver and above that for magazine articles, for example. This way authors could rework their work from a magazine article for a book, for example.

    On the other hand, we need fair dealing, to allow not-for-profit use for such things as archiving material, shifting time or formats, etc. If I already have purchased Abbey Road on vinyl, why should I have to pay for it again on 8 track, on cassette, on CD unless I think each of these formats adds value to me?

    Lastly, copyright term is far too long, and should be cut back to about 20 years, like patents. Copyright was NEVER intended to provide a lifelong royalty for creators, it was intended as a limited time monopoly to encourage creation – and that time was originally 14 years (in the UK).

  15. “Nothing else in the education delivery process is free and there is no reason why copying about a billion pages of copyright material a year should somehow be “fair”.”

    Can you quantify this figure, “a billion”?

    Can anyone quantify it?

  16. So let’s see if I understand this…
    Erna Paris’ point (appears to be) is that fair dealing in Canadian copyright law allows a user to make a single copy of a work. In the case of academia then, what is a user? Is it the institution that purchased the work in the first case? If that is what is considered to be the user under the law then Erna has a point. If all of the undergrad/grad students of the UofO made a copy of a book, would those 10,200 (8600 undergrad, 1600 grad) copies be considered fair use? If even 5% made a copy, that would still be 501 copies made of the original document.