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 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.