Dealing With the Access Copyright Opt-Out: The Rest of the Story

The Canadian Press ran a story last week on the transition away from Access Copyright at Canadian universities. The transition was always going to require an adjustment given the clear commitment at the universities to respect copyright and obtain permission where required (a process facing delays due to the Access Copyright’s opposition to transactional licences). The article includes a quote from Professor Jeremy Richards, a geology professor at the University of Alberta, who indicates that he had stopped handing out some materials out of copyright concerns.

After the article was published, I contacted Professor Richards to learn more about his experience. Professor Richards has featured several posts on Access Copyright on his blog that have been sharply critical of the lack of support from the University of Alberta for faculty in making the transition. It turns out he is supportive of opting-out of Access Copyright but rightly expects the university to provide support for faculty.

The missing materials are not quite what some might think. This semester Professor Richards is teaching two earth sciences courses (outlines here and here). Both require students to purchase the same text – the Changing Earth – which costs over $150.  Neither course features customized coursepacks. Professor Richards supplements his lectures with extensive powerpoint slides that feature graphics and other images. There is no issue in using these slides in the classroom as part of a lecture. In other words, the students reading materials have not changed nor have the classroom lectures. The only change involves student access to copies of the classroom slides. While Professor Richards previously provided a PDF version of those slides behind a password-protected site, he now has some concerns in doing so.

This not the “purging of Canadian content” that some recklessly claim, however, it does point to the need for universities that opt-out of the Access Copyright interim tariff to provide full support to faculty members during the transition. I believe universities have several concurrent obligations on this issue that include respecting copyright, maximizing the use of public dollars (which may mean opting-out of the Access Copyright tariff), and providing faculty with support for copyright clearances.


  1. Very informative article…… to editor/2011-09-20/article-2753132/High-stakes-in-campus-copyright-wars/1

  2. Prof.Richards’ use of these images would not have been permitted under the old AC license, nor under the interim tariff, unless U of A had elected the digital option (Schedule G). If the images were part of AC’s repertoire – unlikely, IMHO – their use would be permitted by AC’s proposed new tariff. In other words, U of A’s withdrawal from the tariff has not changed anything for Prof. Richards. What is really needed is copyright law reform that would consider this fair use.

  3. Contradiction?
    You: “In other words, the students reading materials have not changed nor have the classroom lectures.”

    Prof. Richards: “So my solution as of this term has been to redact all potentially copyrighted material from the pdfs I provide to my students, and have explained my reasons for doing this to each class.” (

    Isn’t this a contradiction?

  4. “Purging of Canadian content” – is in some ways our reality. I coordinate the materials and curriculum for a group of ESL instructors in a University and despite the amazing efforts of bookstore staff to secure permissions for our coursepack materials – it is the Canadian content that is being removed in the most part. US and UK publishers have been much better at giving us the ability to go ahead and use their materials with our students as they learn English. But our students have chosen to come to Canada to study and so this is distressing to see. Solutions we have used is to draw from the writers we have on staff to provide customized materials, contacted authors directly (thank you David Suzuki) and continue to look for alternative Canadian sources that may be amenable to working within our copyright reality post Access.

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  6. Apples, oranges & tomatoes …
    Even though some of the activities of professors here were not covered under the AC licence anyways, I see a lot of uncertainty ahead. It is too bad it has all come to this point. I’m not even going to lay blame and just ask the government to put some serious thought and consideration past their inherent ideology to find the best solution going forward to new legislation.

    There is no way for all parties in this debate to come out the ‘winner’, interests of creators, students and the universities do cross but also oppose at some points. If I could pick one over the other to emphasize (not exclusively) I’d have to say put the students first as this will improve our educational capacity and quality leading to a better Canada and economy. In a better economy we all win.

  7. The universities that opt out will have saved quite a lot of money–increasingly so in future years. Accordingly, they should be in a position to provide infrastructure support for securing permissions from copyright owners.

  8. Shorten Copyright Terms and Dramatically expand fair dealing
    That would solve all these problems. I don’t see why I should get paid for the next 150 years for the book I write today. Most of us get paid only once for our work, the pay cheques don’t keep coming for decades after we’re dead.

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