“A Gross Abuse of the Collective Administration of Copyright”

Howard Knopf reports that the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) has filed an application to amend the Access Copyright interim tariff requiring it grant transactional or pay-per-use licences upon request. As I reported last month, Access Copyright has been denying requests by universities for transactional licences in an effort to pressure universities to force them to licence all digital materials for a far higher price. This results in a remarkable situation where universities attempt to pay to use works and Access Copyright says it won’t take their money (though it does offer pay-per-use for corporate customers).

As universities begin the process of shifting toward greater use of pay-per-use licensing (along with other site licences and open access materials), the Access Copyright approach raises significant concerns. Indeed, according to AUCC “this tactic is a gross abuse of the collective administration of copyright and an improper use of collective monopoly power.”  In light of the Access Copyright actions:

“AUCC submits that, for the reasons that follow, Access Copyright has not approached negotiations of transactional licenses with AUCC and ACCC members in good faith and has instead engaged in misconduct. Therefore, AUCC hereby applies to the Board to amend the Interim Tariff to require Access Copyright to grant transactional licences to post-secondary educational institutions.”

Knopf raises the possibility of a Competition Bureau action if the Copyright Board declines to act.


  1. Dr. Geist,

    Howard Knopf’s first sentence repeats the false claim that Access Copyright is seeking a 1300% increase. Given all the energy you put into debunking bad math (well, other people’s bad math; not your own) and apparent overestimations of cost, I wonder why you let such an egregious exaggeration stand unchallenged.

    Do you ever intend to hold a neutral position in this research you are conducting?

    I also find it head-shakingly ironic that a party refusing to negotiate new licenses with a creator collective for use of their repertoire now accuses that collective of bad faith. As the Copyright Board has already stated:

    “…in any event, it takes two to tango. In this case the Institutions have refused to even walk to the dance floor.”

  2. OttawaCanuck says:

    Looking forward
    Some day there will no longer be a need for copyright clearing houses leaching off the system. Few people will remember them fondly.

  3. It also takes two to quarrel …
    It may take two to Tango, but if the cover charge is too high one might want to try the disco down the street.

  4. John, the 1300% increase is a verifiable fact. Whether you consider it a fair criticism in light of the removal of some of their other fees is a totally different matter. You know as well as everyone else where this number comes from. Making out like you are ignorant to this fact only makes you look…. well… ignorant.

    Perhaps the institutions don’t like the music A-C is playing on the dance floor, and they are making this application in order to change the tune. I notice you don’t dispute or criticize the highly self serving and anti-competitive practice of NOT offering a per use licence.

  5. @Darryl
    Knoff’s statement “In the Access Copyright quest for a 1,300% increase in its post secondary tariff” is misleading and inflamatory. The overall impact of the change to the tariff, according to published U of A reports, is about 250%. That 1300% is in one small component of the tariff.

  6. Crockett says:

    Yes, it’s all in the numbers …
    I agree the 1300% figure has nice sticker shock effect, but let’s not loose track of the point that even 250% is a HUGE increase. Can you think of a product or service that you use, that you would not be upset about if the the price increased such? Are you willing all of a sudden to pay $250 a month instead of $75 for your cable bill?

    Some would argue that it’s still just a small percentage of your total income so you shouldn’t complain … right.

    I think you would start considering alternatives, which is just what is happening.

  7. prove it
    Okay Darryl, prove the verifiable fact of a 1300% increase. We all look forward to your scientific analysis.

    Crockett, the whole point of this and Knopf’s posting is that the AUCC actually wants into AC’s club. They just can’t be bothered to negotiate the price so instead they stand outside and complain.

    Don’t you guys ever tire of defending indefensible posts by the dear professor? The hypocrisy in this posting is palpable. There’s no excusing it, so why even try?

  8. Crockett says:

    I’ll give it a try …
    John, I have no doubt there is a certain amount of stubbornness and complaining from all quarters. The simple fact remains that AC is offering a product at a price that another party does not want to pay.

    If, as you say, they do want to use AC’s annual fee services (rather than pay per use that apparently AC will not offer?) and refuse to negotiate with you then that is bad faith. On the other hand, if they are considering other avenues that are available or opening up then that is a simple free market choice.

    As an analogy, satellite TV just got to expensive for me, it started around $35 a month when I signed up but ballooned to almost $100 over time for much the same services. Then I started using other legal methods for watching media and subscribing to new streaming services. I now pay around $25 for essentially the same access, throwing away the junk I never used in the process. Was I unreasonable to do so?

    If AC wants to be paid more for services that are available elsewhere, and demand greater oversight and control in the process, then is a certain amount of complaining unreasonable?

    Where is the Hypocrisy … I don’t see it?

  9. Crockett – “nice sticker shock effect”?

    It’s false. What “nice effect” are you hoping for from false info?

    AC has asked for an amount of money different from what they got before because:

    a) times have changes and all other prices have gone up (checked tuition lately)

    b) there is more content on offer

    c) there are more uses on offer

    In any contract negotiation, the more the buyer wants, the higher the price.

  10. end user says:

    >In any contract negotiation, the more the buyer wants, the higher the price.

    Except in the real world the price per product/usage goes down the more often you buy/license a product.

    Yesterday I went to the store and bought a Coke. I paid $2.06 like always with the amount changing with inflation. Today I went in and I could only buy 12 pack of Coke as single bottles are not sold anymore and now I have to pay for 12x of what I actually need with a nigher price tag.

    When I negotiate a deal for 100 plastic 4L containers I get them for $1/ea but if I negotiate for say 4000 of those containers just like in the rest of the world my price goes down by quite a bit. I can go to many retail stores and say I want 200 of these and can and will negotiate a better price with the merchant.

    I go to a business and say I like your software but I don’t need a bulk amount atm but will need to get 20 licenses per month. We negotiate a contract that I will buy 20 software license per month and get a batter price since I’m buying/using it more often.

    Same reason OEM manufacturers get Windows licenses so cheap.

    Since were in a “free” society the universities have every right to go and find a cheaper alternative leaving AC in the dust and have another organization or rights holders step in and make money.

  11. Crockett says:

    ABC, I can play this game …
    a) times have changed some prices have gone down (free?)

    b) there is more content available from other sources (competition)

    c) not all that is offered is necessarily wanted (only available as a whole … like those TV packages)

    People should be paid for their work, including creators, no question about that.

    But again it comes down to this simple truth … if a product is priced right it will sell, if it’s not and it doesn’t sell, well you can call that an injustice if you want but that’s just the way the world works John.

    Back to my TV analogy, I enjoy a certain genre of shows that are expensive to produce. Unfortunately, most people (for some reason) seem to rather prefer watching other people dance or loose weight thus the market has changed, my choice of shows are fading away. Is that unfair or an injustice … is it even right? I could think that but really I’d just be blowing into the wind.

    There is less insidiousness going on here than a personal unwillingness to adjust.

  12. fellas,

    Walk away all you want. Talk market forces and changing TV shows all you want. None of that is actually relevant to this situation or discussion.

    AUCC wants to use the AC repertoire. In fact, it needs to. That has been proven by continual use. If it could go with alternate means, it would. It hasn’t, and it won’t.

    It also refused to go through the negotiation process. Now it cries foul and bad faith because AC has gone the tariff route – pretty much the only route left to it.

    This is, I’m afraid, NOT a beloved free-culture story about buggy whips and failure to adjust. It’s just plain-old stubborn refusal to pay.

    Oh, and it’s also a story about a rather shocking withdrawal from academic rigour, and the use of false information by a prominent “intellectual” to promote an ideological position within a confined industrial dispute.

    Hey, Darryl, how’s that 1300% proof coming along? Perhaps Dr. Geist can help you out with some quick back-channel info.

  13. Sigh. John do you dispute that the previous per student A-C licencing fee was $3.38? Do you dispute that the proposed new per student licencing fee is $45? Basic math says $45 is 1331% of $3.38. As I said whether this is a fair comparison in light of the removal of the 10 cent per page which was also charged is up for debate. You are not making any such debate, but simply calling the figure a lie, which it clearly is not.

    As others have said, even at a net increase of over 200%, it is still horrendous. Worse however is the loss of freedom professors would have to go outside of the A-C catalogue should their university sign up to this deal. The lack of academic freedom this deal forces upon faculty should have everyone, including you, up in arms. Yet oddly you seem to argue that they have less freedom by not signing this deal.

  14. John, then why doesn’t AC have the same setup for corporate customers?

    Universities don’t want to be forced to pay for what they won’t use. Why is that unreasonable? It’s like walking into a Starbucks, trying to buy a latte, and they tell you you have to buy everything or nothing.

  15. Darryl,

    So an incorrect calculation is “up for debate,” is it?

    Where’s the debate? The new tariff fee incorporates the estimated value of the per page charge. That’s as plain as day. Therefore, no 1300% increase, no matter how you try to massage the logic to suit your bias.

    You’ll need to explain to the world how licensing as large a repertoire as possible (including with other databases and open source) results in a loss of academic freedom. Loss of academic freedom is a terrible thing indeed, which is why I wrote a blog posting about how professors are now expected to keep their AC repertoire use within the boundaries of fair dealing or else they may be told by their institution to actually NOT use certain materials. Why? Because the institutions don’t want to pay a fair price (or even negotiate a price) for that content.

    Y’all can read that here:

    So… Darryl is wrong in his calculation, and wrong about my concerns for academic freedom. Just another typical day in Geistville. I look forward to reading the many amusing rationalizations.

    Jesse, I don’t know the answer to your question, but I would guess the reason is that corporations work with the repertoire in a very different way than do post-secondary institutions, and have shown a willingness to bargain in good faith.

  16. Jesse,
    You see the reasoning is Johns staatment here:
    “AUCC wants to use the AC repertoire. In fact, it needs to.”

    AC thinks it has them over a barel, hence, the 250-1300% increase

  17. Yes John, it includes their estimation, which is about as accurate as the RIAA estimation of the cost of music piracy. As a result they are requiring invasive and excessive usage records, while at the same time not giving the option of per use licensing.

    It is interesting you say they are licensing open source. That is about as good as licensing the public domain too. When did they get into licensing software anyway?

    As for academic freedom. Well, here is a list of about 14000 works which this license would not cover. Neither does it cover any A/V works.

    Not being covered by the license and the license now costing over twice as much (even by the conservative estimates) means that there will be that much less money for accessing material outside the A-C repertoire.

    Funny I’m sure we’ve been around this whole unlimited buffet thing before

    If A-C was truly interested in being fair and giving universities as much academic freedom as possible, then they would also offer a reasonably priced per use option. They don’t because they want to lock the Universities into their services. IE less freedom.

    Someone is most definitely wrong in this exchange, and I think you will see the answer to that one staring at you blankly in the mirror.

  18. Darryl,

    Free Culture Handbook – Section 4: Commenting on Michael Geist’s blog – subsection 1: when you know you’re way over your head – paragraph two: “When all else fails, refer to RIAA, whether it has any relevance to the conversation or not.”

    Thanks for linking to my comments section, where anyone who chooses to read will see that I show your buffet analogy to be silly and, of course, completely inaccurate. Nothing about the tariff restricts universities from seeking content elsewhere, including and especially the content on AC’s exclusions list (what you’re trying to prove with that list is anybody’s guess).

    You’ve misread (what, Darryl misread something?) my point. It is universities, not AC, who should be licensing as large a repertoire as possible, including other databases and open source. That they choose not to is on them, not on AC.

    So we’ve gone from 1300% to 250% to 200% to “over twice,” which for you mathematics fans would be just over 100%. And still, no-one over here blinks an embarrassed eye at how inaccurate and hyperbolic is the foundation of this attack on collective licensing. Let me know when you come up with an actual number that has some unchanging reality in it.

  19. Not sure why there’s a problem with the universities wanting to actually pay creators without having to pay for things they don’t want, like John seems to think that there is. At least that’s my impression form his commenting here.

  20. John, I’ve used the conservative estimates in an effort to find common ground. Everyone seems to agree the 200% is a fair MINIMUM increase. Of course I should have realized that even when I go out of my way to agree with you, you don’t agree with me.

    You are absolutely right, “Nothing about the tariff restricts universities from seeking content elsewhere” just like nothing is preventing you from going out any buying that brand new Lamborghini, well except for money of course. It boggle the mind how you cannot see paying a premium price for an all-you-can-eat repertoire, as not being a barrier to acquiring content from outside that repertoire.

    Anyway, it is nice to see your debating skills have not changed. Dodge and redirect. It would be nice of course if you could address an issue head on once in a while though.

  21. Darryl,

    Was there a debate going on? I think the words you’re looking for are “I can’t prove that Howard Knopf’s 1300% increase number is correct, because it’s not. I’m sorry for suggesting otherwise, because that was kind of dishonest and really does show my unwavering bias.”

    So, are we allowed to talk about money now? I mean, you mentioned premium pricing and sports cars. So, I’m allowed to talk about relative monetary values?

    Salaries and Benefits = 56% of University of Ottawa’s $800 Million budget

    Paying the AC tariff for a repertoire they actually use despite insistence otherwise = less that .2% of that budget; and they won’t have to pay it anyway because they’ll pass it on to students.

    In the tariff dispute, Geist is in the sports car and the entire population of Canadian creators is riding the bus.

  22. I don’t get it…
    Is Degen a shill or just desperate for attention? For all his talk of ‘proof’ he’s done nothing but slung Ad Hominem attacks and linked to his ‘blog’.

  23. There we go! Let’s pull out that Free Culture Handbook and find where it advises the use of the word ‘shill’ while losing an argument.

  24. @Crimson
    You get used to it. Degen tends to try to distract from the points he’s fighting against by bringing up unrelated things. And seems to mainly post here to attack anything that might make copyright a little more fair for people wanting to use to and actually pay the creators who make it.

  25. Really, Ki?

    Because my very first comment here was questioning the veracity of one of the “facts” used in the attack on Access Copyright. Through the subsequent intervention of other commenters, we have all seen that I was right — the 1300% claim is false AND Dr. Geist clearly has no intention of admitting his complicity in spreading the falsehood.

    Furthermore, my comment is the only one here (including the original posting) making direct reference to the actual Copyright Board decision in the matter of the tariff.

    Meanwhile the rest of you scurry around in “protect the dear leader” mode, accusing me of being an off-topic shill.

    The AUCC and Geist have made their accusations. AC has responded quite reasonably and responsibly. It’s now up to the Copyright Board to take all of these things into account and render a new decision. Thank you for helping me show, at least, that a foundational element of AUCC and Geist’s complaint is a ridiculously biased and completely false estimation of cost.

    Can’t get more on-topic than that.

  26. @Degen
    *shrug* Everyone else made good points that you decided to ignore in your “AC is always right” crusade you seem to be on.

  27. pedestrian says:

    Mr Degan

    The Extended Collective Licensing (blanket licensing) that AC is pursuing is ( as far as I understand Canadian Law ) not ON. It is also a very anti-productivity, anti-market piece of economic nonsense. And claiming payments for things to which you have no clear right, is fraud.

  28. You guys are priceless. I engage fully with your ridiculous arguments and incorrect facts, and in the end you just shrug and go into a shell of complete denial. Business as usual.


    I encourage you to push a claim of fraud against AC. Call the police.

  29. pedestrian says:

    Mr Degan
    Claiming payments for things to which you have no clear right, is fraud.

    The sort of lawless rubbish that you are pursuing was struck down in Australia by the High court as Unconstitutional way back in 1991. In Australia the sort of restrictions of trade that you are pursuing have resulted in a elderly, respected philanthropist being given a long jail term ( he was released , he was terminally ill)
    You are most welcome to come down to our jurisdiction any time. Would love to introduce you to Aussie rules.