Meera Nair

rewriting history

In Posts on March 23, 2014 at 8:22 pm

On 11 March 2014, the Canadian Copyright Institute (CCI) released their policy paper titled A Fair and Better Way Forward, which details the Institute’s interpretation of the last two years’ of fair dealing activity. The Institute calls for dialogue with the educational community, expressly to return to the prior climate of collective licensing in Canada. Obligingly, the Institute has even scripted the dialogue; it begins with the statement “The CMEC/AUCC/ACCC guidelines are unacceptable to Canadian creators and publishers,” and ends with “The final step would be to implement [revised] guidelines through a collective licensing agreement.”

In his blog post of 14 March 2014, Michael Geist expertly discredits CCI’s interpretation of history and points out the emptiness of their not-so-veiled threats against the educational community. Readers who are tired of this subject (as I am) likely hoped that discussion of the paper would end. Regrettably, that did not happen; on 20 March 2014, Quill and Quire gave further support to the paper through an interview with Jaqueline Hushion (chair of CCI). Hushion voiced her disappointment that the paper has not received much attention from educational institutions, that efforts to “make positive, useful contact with any one or more of the three major education [organizations] in order to see if we could open a dialogue” were unsuccessful.

The premise of CCI’s paper, and Hushion’s interview, is that current challenges for the publishing sector of Canada began with the legislative expansion of fair dealing in 2012, and, Education v. Access Copyright (2012) – a Supreme Court decision that confirmed that some copying carried out in schools is fair dealing. (It must be emphasized that this decision was made without reliance upon the expanded ambit of fair dealing). According to CCI, these two factors: “… did not eliminate the need for collective licensing in educational institutions. Nor do they justify copying practices that will have a devastating impact on the market for published materials (p.2).” These two sentences invite exploration.

If I may begin with the second sentence, strictly speaking, it is irrelevant. It is not incumbent upon the education sector to prop up the publishing sector by making unnecessary payment for materials. As I have written before, this does not mean that educational institutions are not paying for copyrighted material, they are only ensuring that payments are not made in duplicate. Such a propping up would be a reprehensible waste of taxpayers’ money and the tuition dollars scraped together by students and their families. However, for a moment, let us assume that such waste is the correct course of action. CCI does not present credible evidence as to the “devastating impact.” Which is not surprising as this is not the first instance where rights holders have painted a picture of devastation without support. In Education v. Access Copyright (2012), the Supreme Court of Canada was unimpressed by this tactic:

Access Copyright pointed out that textbook sales had shrunk over 30 percent in 20 years. However, as noted by the Coalition, there was no evidence that this decline was linked to photocopying done by teachers. Moreover, it noted there were several other factors that were likely to have contributed to the decline in sales, such as the adoption of semester teaching, a decrease in registrations, the longer lifespan of textbooks, increased use of the Internet and other electronic tools, and more resource-based learning (para. 33).

Returning to the first sentence–regarding the cause of the elimination of collective licensing–I agree. Neither the expansion of fair dealing nor the Supreme Court decision is responsible. That claim to fame, goes primarily to Access Copyright.

It was not that long ago when educational institutions were quite complacent about their licensing agreements with Access Copyright. As I described two years ago, the educational market became reserved for Access Copyright, with no real protest from institutions. A relatively inexpensive and easy-to-administer deal, coupled with seeming assurances of safety, made collective licensing an attractive proposition. And Canadian universities were extremely timid in their approach with fair dealing (as I noted a few weeks ago, even the CCH Canadian decision of 2004 did not bring forward pronounced engagement with fair dealing.) The heightened focus upon fair dealing came only after a startling move by Access Copyright.

Readers may remember the summer of 2010, when Access Copyright proposed a 1300% increase in the royalty rate of the university license agreements. Along with expectation of heightened fees came demands for more rights (including for linking to material – a claim not supported by law and later rejected by the Supreme Court of Canada), no exclusion for fair dealing (despite the presence of such an exclusion in earlier licenses), and invasive surveillance of university activity. (Howard Knopf provided detailed coverage, see here.)

Shortly thereafter, Michael Geist wrote:

  … education must self-assess to determine whether it actually needs these licences or whether individual licences with the authors (or copyright holder) where needed makes more sense.  … How many courses rely heavily on recently published research that is available under open access?  How many courses limit materials primarily to textbooks that are purchased by students and not copied?  How many rely on works found in databases that are licenced separately? …

Three and a half years later, many post-secondary institutions have carried out such self-assessment and are using their resources wisely. Students may receive instruction through licensed material (paid directly to the individual provider), open-access content, publicly available materials, and through use of all exceptions available to Canadians under the Copyright Act of Canada.

CCI’s stated disappointment at the lack of engagement from the educational community is not likely to bring about a thaw in relations. The community has simply run out of patience in the wake of threats, tariff applications, one lawsuit, and incessant attempts to rewrite history.

Just some of last year’s activity on this subject:

April 2013: Access Copyright announces legal action. Michael Geist responds with a detailed analysis of how ill-conceived the action is.

September 2013: Howard Knopf covers Access Copyright’s statement of claim to the Copyright Board for a post-secondary tariff. Through the work of Graham Reynolds, I indicate that the Copyright Board was no longer something Access Copyright should take for granted. (I also took the opportunity to remind the collective’s membership that their administration was gambling with the members’ money.)

Also in September 2013, my take on the object of tension; namely the AUCC guidelines. It spanned two entries; see here and here.

December 2013: Access Copyright announces its disappointment concerning the continued trend to abstain from collective licensing. Michael Geist reminds us that collective licensing is no longer good value. My reminder was that Canadian universities were long overdue in recognizing that copyright is a set of limited rights. (I also took umbrage at the campaign of fear conducted by Access Copyright.)

December 2013: The Association of Canadian Publishers releases a Statement of Principles on Fair Dealing in Education.

February 2014: Howard Knopf provides clarification regarding ACP’s [Mis]Statement of Principles.

February 2014: Michael Geist reports that the Copyright Board has posed challenging questions to Access Copyright with respect to the proposed tariff.  The Board also offered a much-needed reminder; as copyright does not apply to insubstantial amounts of copying, fair dealing addresses substantial copying.

  1. […] Meera Nair, Rewriting History (March 23, 2014): https://fairduty.wordpress.com/2014/03/23/rewriting-history/ […]

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