Maryland State House by Danny Huizinga (CC BY 2.0)

Maryland State House by Danny Huizinga (CC BY 2.0)


Australian Copyright Scandal Points to the Need for Greater Oversight of Copyright Collectives

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.


  1. Marc Belliveau says:

    Access is likely not the only Canadian copyright collective appropriating its “members” money to resist progress and misrepresent the law. The music industry lobbyists even go into law schools to lie about SCC decisions and warp students’ views. The Copyright Board should receive the least degree of judicial deference given its astoundingly bad record and “captured” status.

  2. Devil's Advocate says:

    You would think directing money that rightfully belongs to artists, IP holders, etc. into their own pockets (let’s call a spade a “spade”) would be considered a felony possibly more serious than so-called “piracy”.

    Considering the astronomical amounts of money being effectively “stolen”, and considering how often this kind of thing gets reported, why hasn’t anyone gone to jail? After all, courts around the world don’t seem to see anything wrong with leveling serious charges (some including the threat of jail) against kids for downloading a song.

    The incongruity here is astounding.

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  4. Bob Morris says:

    Access Copyright has always been transparent in how it allocates money to litigation and lobbying, and these are activities supported by the members, some of whom want Access to be more active on their behalf. To characterize it as somehow stealing from creators, or ripping off schools, is false and misleading. Copyright collectives have a clear mandate to advocate for copyright legislation that supports creator interests, and to litigate when necessary. There is no scandal here, or in Australia, where CAL has the legal authority to do these things.

    • Devil's Advocate says:

      One would think the prime methodology that should be applied to “support CREATOR interests” would be to PAY the creators what they’re due. That seems to be the part of the arrangement these collectives have a problem with.

      I’m sure actual creators would rather see more of their money, than have it spent “in their honour” on the “administration” costs of the collectives’ self-interest activities.

      I find it amusing how the “creators” are always mentioned when spinning the justification for not simply paying them. As for the “legal authority” – that shaky premise doesn’t appear to be completely shared by the courts agreeing to hear the fraud charges.