Writers and Publishers Have Value

A long running dispute has been resolved between York University and the representative of writers and publishers in Canada, Access Copyright, as far as collecting payments for academic use of portions of books. Access Copyright, the collective that receives tariffs on behalf of writers and their publishers, announced on July 12th that the Federal Court has made a favorable decision.

This is welcome news for writers, particularly due to the atmosphere of devaluation and diminishment of cultural contributions to society by the bean counters in charge of our corporations and institutions.

What York U. had been pushing for – as the proxy in the case that will affect other institutions – was to apply a very broad set of guidelines with respect to “Fair Dealing”.

Similar to “Fair Use”, which is part of the Copyright Act in the United States, fair dealing was put into copyright legislation as an exception to the restriction on copying parts or all of a writer’s work. The concept was intended to allow very limited copying for specific purposes, such as for the purpose of reviewing a work, as long as it meets other specified criteria. Over time, many academic institutions have adopted, amongst themselves, the convention that extensive copying without compensation to creators and publishers was no problem because there was a public good involved. Just how much copying under fair dealing can be permitted is not specified in legislation. In this vacuum, one institution after another has pushed the boundary.

Apparently supported by the other academic institutions, York University produced their own version of Fair Dealing Guidelines and thumbed their noses at our collective, Access Copyright. It was suggested that York U, et al, felt they could target us by the two-pronged approach by not paying royalties for copying normally done under licence and by expensively lawyering us year after year, for over a dozen years.

Judicial reason finally prevailed.

As Access Copyright President Roanie Levy wrote:

The Court concluded that the guidelines do not meet the test for fair dealing established by the Supreme Court of Canada.
The Court also found that tariffs are mandatory and confirms that, “There is no opting out.”
The Court noted that, “There is a mutual dependence between libraries/professors and the copyright regime which may suggest that a better system of protection and more certain criteria (such as in a licence or in a tariff) would assist all parties interested in education and access to educational materials.”

Access Copyright has made radical changes over the past few years. Perhaps this is one of the benefits of the struggle. Significant and beneficial change only happens when faced with a crisis.

Two questions remain.

Will the academic institutions realize that they and we have wasted way too much money and effort in this battle, and will they be open and cooperative in future discussions?

Secondly, will Access Copyright continue on their course of positive changes, without the motivation of past challenges?


: George Opacic

 Past President, Federation of BC Writers

About Shaleeta Harrison

I am the Executive Director of the FBCW.

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