Access Copyright’s Diminishing Repertoire: Why a Growing Repertoire Offers Decreasing Value

As Canadian universities continue to debate whether to sign the Access Copyright model licence, one of the copyright collective’s chief arguments in favour of the deal is access to what it describes as “an ever-growing repertoire of books, journals, newspapers, etc.”.  Yet the reality is that while the number of works within the repertoire may be growing, the works being copied under the Access Copyright licence is almost certainly declining, thereby diminishing its value for potential licensees, such as universities.

How is this possible when the relative size of the Access Copyright repertoire keeps growing?

There are two reasons. First, Section 20 of the model licence makes it clear that it only kicks in if the use of the work does not otherwise fall within an exception under the Copyright Act or is subject to alternate licensing arrangement, such as database site licences or open access. As I argued in my post on why universities should not sign the licence, these alternatives represent a growing percentage of copying that takes place within universities. Moreover, once Bill C-11 becomes law, the percentage will grow further as the education-specific exceptions take effect.

Given the trajectory of open access growth, the continual growth of materials available through site licences, and posting of materials online (subject to a Bill C-11 exception), newer materials frequently fall outside the Access Copyright licence. In other words, the size of the Access Copyright repertoire may be growing, but a sizable percentage of the new works are available through alternative means and therefore do not require an Access Copyright licence.

The one area where the Access Copyright licence might theoretically offer some value would be for older materials that are not readily available in digital form (and not typically available under open access or site licences).  But according to Access Copyright itself, older works are not likely to be copied under its licences. In its 2012 Payback FAQ to authors, the collective asks authors to only list works published within the last 20 years, noting:

Q. Why are you only asking for works published within the last 20 years?

A. Our statistical analysis of copying data shows that works published more than 20 years ago are unlikely to be copied under our licences.

This admission from Access Copyright shows how its repertoire is declining in value for licensees even as its size increases. A growing percentage of newer materials are available by alternative means, while the older materials may not be subject to an alternate licence, but they are unlikely to be copied. Over the coming years, the Access Copyright squeeze is only going to grow as the entire repertoire of materials likely to be copied – the materials published within the last 20 years – are all published in the digital/Internet era and available through alternative means. This unfolding scenario helps explain why Access Copyright jumped at the chance for a huge increase in fees that come with the model licence and why it is the wrong deal at the wrong time for universities.


  1. Crockett says:

    Is this like how McDonald’s got rid of their super size fries … bigger isn’t always better?
    On the other hand … I do hope as we move to more open and database licences we will not loose too much in the Canadian created content realm. Sure Calculus and ancient history can be massed produced, but other heritage and regional content could be diminished. I am curious to know what level of Canadian content will be available under these new models and what is being done to address this?

  2. .
    All I can say is there’s going to be a shit storm ahead when the new copyright bill passes. Bill needs to be defeated in court our only hope.