Brian Brett Speaks Out: An Open Letter on Access Copyright and the Canadian Copyright Emergency

Brian Brett, the former Chair of the Writers’ Union of Canada and an award winning author, has issued an explosive public letter that “breaks the ‘cone of silence’ that has obscured for too long some of the ugly practices of Access Copyright.” Brett is concerned with copyright reform, but even more troubled by Access Copyright’s activities:

1. After its expenses (which are high – spending approximately $10 million to collect $23.5 million in distributable income), there is $23.5 million in money for copyright distribution. Over $6 million dollars go to foreign copyright organizations. Very little, if anything, is paid back for usage of Canadian copyright material by these organizations.

2. Access Copyright only acquires this $23.5 million by claiming to represent creators and publishers, and that paying them means supporting creators. Access Copyright then pays more than $13 million to publishers. It only pays $4.2 million to actual creators. Their remaining income, is supposed to be distributed by the publishers to their authors, according to how the publishers read their contracts. There is no evidence of this payment occurring since Access Copyright refuses to allow an independent auditing of this income. Effectively, this money has been ‘disappeared.’

3. Access Copyright refuses to distribute, through its “Payback” program, to creators, income from works older than twenty years, yet it continues to collect that income in their name.

4. Access Copyright continues to pay publishers the income for works whose rights have reverted totally to the authors.

5. According to current legislation Access Copyright is now allowed to give an indemnity to educational institutions that are sued by writers not affiliated with Access Copyright, covering their legal expenses if an independent writer should sue them. However, the writer will not be able to charge what they believe their work is worth. They will be restricted to the paltry amount that Access Copyright is currently paying to writers. This means that AC arbitrarily decides for independent authors the value of their work.

6. Access Copyright rewards textbook companies who demand that authors relinquish their copyright to their work by paying them both the publisher and creator copyright payment. Academic authors often consider textbook authorship crucial to tenure. Thus academic authors are open to being pressured by publishers out of their copyright. In effect Access Copyright is encouraging textbook publishers to undermine copyright by demanding a creators’ total copyright, and doubling the publisher’s payment for this ugly practice.

7. Access Copyright, rather than paying out unassigned money to creators as a reward for affiliation, has created a grant foundation that makes awards to a very few writers with funds collected in everyone’s name. Why are the earnings of all writers being converted into grants to a few without our permission?

8. While publishers clearly profit from the current situation, it is actually not their fault. The problem is structural within Access Copyright — its constitution and the make-up of its board, and the anti-creator policies it has chosen to adopt over the years.

Brett concludes that he can no longer advocate for Access Copyright. Instead, he raises the prospect of a class action lawsuit by “writers against Access Copyright, which has been collecting our money in our names and yet failing to deliver that income equitably and transparently.”


  1. Hepheastus42 says:

    This sounds like a huge fraud case.

  2. Mr Geist, i’m a long time reader of yours and saw/viewed/heard your address to the INTA commitee on ACTA. Like many there at the time, i applauded your speech/address to them. Anyway, have you took notice of this? TinyUrl link below, i hope it’s ok…

    EU Parlamentarian Gallo: ACTA Dissent ‘A Soft Form Of Terrorism’

    Not to mention Mr De Gutch provoking/making threats like he is doing to the EU Parliament (and Ms Gallo too) about this ACTA matter. I mean, even indirectly, calling the european citizens ‘terrorists’ who are truly against this? I mean come on…

  3. What’s the history of this?
    Hard to believe some of this hasn’t come up already. No reference in Brett’s letter to creator outrage up to now, what exactly he wanted in the new Copyright Act but “lost”, what’s wrong with the Google proposal to publish and compensate for copyrighted works where the author can’t even be found to say “boo”, and what he’s even saying about educational copiers that a) are opting out of AC’s coverage but b) are supposedly courting his own legal action by doing so. Seems late in the day for all this drama.

  4. @Pedro … I mean, even indirectly, calling the european citizens ‘terrorists’ who are truly against this? I mean come on…
    If that’s not enough for you, hop over to John Degen’s site and count yourself a cultist. It seems to John those who don’t agree with him are not of the true religion 😀

  5. Wow
    Who the heck is posting here? Complete babble is the best way to discribe it.

  6. TWUC has been peddling this nonsense for about 25 years. Nothing new here. In the early days they not only supported AC collecting on behalf of everyone, but insisted that most of the money should go to their own members, even if it wasn’t their stuff being copied – which mostly it wasn’t, because (big surprise here) – schools and universities copy from educational textbooks.

  7. James Plotkin says:

    Annoyed yet unsurprised.

  8. Copyright Collection and Lack of Distribution Always Has Been Fraudulent
    Yet no lawyer will challenge them.

    Now why is that?