The Australian copyright community has been shocked by a scandal involving the Copyright Agency, a copyright collective that diverted millions of dollars intended for authors toward a lobbying and advocacy fund designed to fight against potential fair use reforms. The collective reportedly withheld A$15 million in royalties from authors in order to build a war chest to fight against changes to the Australian copyright law. I wrote last month about my experience in Australia, where groups such as the Copyright Agency have engaged in a remarkable effort to mislead policy makers on the state of copyright law in Canada. A former director of the Copyright Agency describes the latest situation as “pathetic” noting that it was outrageous to extract millions from publicly-funded schools for a lobbying fund.
The Australian case is far from an isolated incident. A quick search reveals plenty of examples of legal concerns involving copyright collectives with corruption fears in Kenya and competition law concerns in Italy over the past couple of months as well as recent fines against Spanish collecting societies. In fact, Jonathan Band and Brandon Butler published an eye-opening article several years ago chronicling an astonishing array of examples of corruption, mismanagement, lack of transparency, and negative effects for both creators and users from copyright collectives around the world.
Canada is home to an enormous number of copyright collectives and the allocation of revenues toward lobbying is also an issue here. For example, this year’s Access Copyright annual report re-names the longstanding expense on copyright tariffs as “Tariff, litigation and advocacy costs”, better reflecting expenditures on lobbying and advocacy activities in which the organization lines up against fair dealing and in favour of copyright term extension. Since the introduction of copyright reform in 2010, Access Copyright has reported spending nearly $7 million on litigation that has been largely unsuccessful, tariff applications, and government lobbying and advocacy (the specific amounts totalling $6.81 million are 2016: $641,000, 2015: $443,000, 2014: $826,000, 2013: $1,571,000, 2012: $1,221,000, 2011: $1,459,000, 2010: $730,000).
Given the expenditures, the federal lobbyist registry indicates that Access Copyright has emerged as one of the most active copyright lobby groups in Ottawa. Since the enactment of the 2012 copyright reforms, the registry lists 27 meetings including multiple meetings with the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), Canadian Heritage, and Industry Canada/ISED. The number of meetings have increased over the past year, with five meetings listed in the lobbyist registry with just the PMO.
Last year, the Senate Standing Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce held a hearing on the Copyright Board of Canada (my comments here), issuing a blistering report calling for reform. As the government prepares for its review of the Copyright Act later this year, an examination of copyright collectives and the potential for new regulations addressing transparency and the use of creator funds for lobbying purposes should be placed on the policy agenda.