CRKN Model Licence

CRKN Model Licence


Canadian Copyright, Fair Dealing and Education, Part Two: The Massive Shift to Electronic Licensing

Canadian copyright lobby groups have spent years falsely claiming that educational institutions refuse to pay for licences to compensate for the use of educational materials. This second post in my Fair Dealing Week series on Canadian copyright, fair dealing, and education focuses on this claim, which is a gross misrepresentation of the data (first post on Setting the Record Straight). The truth is that Canadian universities spend millions of dollars on licensing copyright materials. In fact, over the past decade, the emergence of site licenses that provide access to millions of works – books, journal articles, newspapers, and more – has led to huge increases in expenditures for access. Unlike copyright licences from copyright collectives such as Access Copyright, these digital licences provide both original access to works and the ability to use them in course materials. In the 1990s, a university would both purchase a book and pay for the right to copy a portion of it to distribute to students as course materials. Today, the university can use a single licence to gain access to the book and make it available as course material, handouts and for many other purposes since most digital licences facilitate access and permit multiple uses.

The data on Canadian university spending on licensing is unequivocal. Over the past decade, there has been a massive shift to electronic licensing, with universities both big and small swapping print acquisitions and additional copying licenses for digital licences that grant both access rights and digital copying rights. The compensation to authors rests with the licence provider, who negotiate their ability to include the work in their licensing databases either on publication (in the case of publishers offering e-book licensing) or via acquisition (in the case of services that aggregate a wide range of materials).   

I wrote about the investment in e-book and site licensing in my Misleading on Fair Dealing series back in 2018, which unpacked the widespread use of site licensing for e-books, journals, and other materials and explored the value proposition of site licensing, which delivers far more to educational institutions than a mere reproduction licence from Access Copyright. For example, the Canadian Research Knowledge Network (CRKN) currently negotiates 55 different site licences on behalf of over 80 different institutions valued at over $125 million in annual licensing fees. Its model licence provides for an incredible array of uses: inclusion in course packs, class handouts, scholarly sharing to colleagues, text and data mining, and search. Many of these uses are simply not found in the Access Copyright licence, which helps explain why education pays for access to the materials and the right to use them in a myriad of different ways through the CRKN licence. 

While CRKN negotiates on behalf of its member institutions, those same institutions enter into their own licences. In response to requests for data on their licensing activities, the breadth of spending and shift toward digital becomes readily apparent from just a sampling of Canadian university practices and expenditures:

  • Recent data from University of British Columbia’s Library Online Course Reserves (LOCR) shows that print expenditures decreased by about 74.2% of total collection expenditures between 2010/11 and 2020/21. At the same time, electronic expenditures increased greatly – from 69% in 2010/11 to 92% in 2020/21. UBC’s electronic expenditures increased by about 38% from $10,268,350 in 2010/11 to $14,173,495 in 2021/2022 
  • McGill’s spending on e-book licenses increased by about 94.9% between 2017 and 2022, from $3,848,754 in 2017 to a total of $7.5 million just a few years later.
  • The University of Saskatchewan is projected to spend $7,209,086 on a total of 300 digital licenses in 2022/23
  • Over the past 10 years, the percentage of MacEwan University’s library collections budget that is spent on digital content has increased from 35% in 2012 to 96% in 2021. This means that overall, MacEwan spends an average of $1.8 million annually on digital content. 
  • Mount Saint Vincent University (MSVU) spends close to $1 million on hundreds of subscription licences and thousands of e-books. 
  • Nipissing University also says that the majority of their academic budget is spent on databases and e-books.
  • King’s University has turned towards e-resources that include one site license, multiple articles, and several e-book subscription licenses. King’s directs most of its $95,000 budget for digital materials into memberships in consortia such as CRKN, the Alberta Library (TAL), and the Health Knowledge Network (HKN)

As the UBC graphic demonstrates, the shift over the past two decades in spending and allocation to digital has completely upended the model for how education ensures professors and students have access to materials and can make full use of them. 

UBC Collections expenditures and print circulation, provided by UBC Library

The experience is similar in other universities:

  • As of October 14, 2020, the University of Ottawa has 2,440,928 print books, 2,427,304 e-books, and 76,414 e-journals
  • As of February 2021, the University of Alberta now has more than 212,000 scholarly e-journals, over 66 hosted OA journals, and over 2 million e-books
  • In 2018/2019, UBC’s library had over 8.3 million items of which 2.8 million are e-books (about 33.7% of the library’s total items
  • From 2016 to 2020, McGill Library’s print book collection decreased by about 42.2% from 3,760,576 in 2016 to 2,172,145 in 2020. During the same time, McGill’s e-book collection increased by about 59.4% from 2,156,071 in 2016 to 3,436,890 in 2020
  • As of June 2019, MacEwan University’s library had over 1.4 million print and e-resources of which 1.2 million were e-books (about 85.7% of total resources) and 71,800 were e-journals (about 5.1% of total resources).
  • Data from the University of Toronto’s library collections demonstrates that their physical book collection (monographs & bound serials) decreased by about 13.9% between 2015 and 2021. During the same period, the University’s e-book collection increased by about 79.9%.
  • The University of Guelph library licensed content increased by about 21.3% from 7255 items (54.28% of total e-items) in 2018/2019 to 8801 items (49.46% of total e-items) by 2021/22.
  • The University of Lethbridge added 73,972 new e-book titles to their library collection in 2012/2013, 102,962 new e-book titles in 2018/2019 (a 39.2% increase from 2012/2013), and 158,274 new e-book titles in 2021/2022 (a 53.7% increase from 2018/2019. During the same period, the University had a net addition of +13,097 print resources (books and periodicals) in 2012/2013, a net loss of -5,000 print resources in 2018/2019, and a net loss of -2,541 print resources in 2021/2022

This is just a sampling of the data, but it highlights how much the world of access to copyright materials has changed since the 2012 Supreme Court copyright decisions and legislative reforms. Far from creating an uncompensated environment for copyright materials, the opposite has occurred. Canadian educational institutions have often licensed digital version of works they had already purchased or invested in licensing content given the advantages offered by site licensing. This is precisely what the government had in mind: more access, more digitization, and more spending on copyright content for the benefit of creators and users alike. 


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