Meera Nair

they’re back

In Posts on April 16, 2012 at 7:56 pm

Access Copyright (AC)  and the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) announced today an agreement of a model license that will allow for reproduction of copyrighted materials in print and digital format. Details of the agreement are minimal but the price is explicit: “The model licence will see institutions pay Access Copyright a royalty of $26.00 per full-time equivalent student annually. This royalty includes what used to be a separate 10 cents per page royalty for coursepack copying, so there will no longer be a separate royalty for such copying.”

Left unsaid is that the previous arrangement was set upon a much smaller base rate, $3.38 per full-time equivalent student. Also, the prior arrangement included royalty charges only when actual copying occurred. A reasonable condition — a customer pays only when something is actually bought. Now AC is set to receive a yearly windfall, regardless of whether all students’ education requires use of any kind of coursepack, digital or otherwise. It is conceivable that humanities, social sciences, and arts teachers utilize course packs for some courses, but it is inconceivable to assume that all have shunned textbooks for coursepacks. I remain skeptical that mathematics, physics, biology and chemistry have much use for coursepacks at all, particularly for the early years of undergraduate studies.

My skepticism could be laid to rest if AUCC (or AC) would disclose what the actual use of resource material is at Canadian educational institutions. But neither entity seems to know: “Over the course of the next six months, a survey methodology will be designed jointly to gather reliable bibliographic data and volume of usage trending data to allow Access Copyright to make fair distribution of royalties to its affiliates and to assist in establishing appropriate future licence rates.”

I hope that current and future license rates appropriately exempt open source materials, publicly available websites, journals already licensed for by libraries, and, offer a discount for textbook chapters developed by the professoriate with a healthy contribution of funding courtesy of taxpayers. (And let’s not forget fair dealing.)

While AUCC is to be congratulated for striking a harder bargain than the Universities of Toronto and Western Ontario (their negotiators could only achieve a per full-time equivalent fee of $27.50) it is disappointing that the organization that claims to have “the voice of Canadian universities”  settled on an agreement that is not in the best interests of Canadian university students. AUCC negotiated a fee that does not reflect actual consumption of copyrighted materials for each student, yet the fees will likely be paid for by all students. Paul Davidson, president of AUCC, indicates that the agreement provides “long-term certainty on price.” No doubt AC was happy to accommodate.

Update — April 17, 2012 — Michael Geist’s comments on the agreement.

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