Landing : Athabascau University

The “Cheek” of Access Copyright

By a wide margin of 98.5%, the universities of Canada have rejected an agreement with Access Copyright, a copyright licensing agency created to support the interests of publishers and some creators. It is the collective society that charges universities and its students for copying scholarly works.  In response, Access Copyright has now petitioned the Copyright Board of Canada to require the universities to provide them with an “advance on payments due” through an interim agreement. Their petition is couched in terms of “extending the previous agreement” but in fact, they are making a conscious ploy to covertly extend their reach from print to digital resources and limit the fair dealing rights of university students and faculty.

With the utmost cheek, Access Copyright unapologetically demands this extension to “fund staff salaries” and to “fund the tariff proceeding”. They expect universities to not only give them an advance on their salaries, but also to pay the costs of their actions, which the universities are challenging. Access Copyright has been receiving $16 million annually from post secondary institutions and now they want an advance from them in order to fight us at the Copyright Board. Furthermore, they are also insisting that universities do all their record keeping, auditing and sampling for them.

Even more outlandish is their demand that universities be disbarred from objecting to the tariff. They claim that neither universities nor student organizations, nor teacher associations are “bona fide” objectors. Even the government of Alberta should not be allowed to object according to their claim. So, they want an “advance” from universities and other affected organizations, and at the same time they petition for their exclusion as objectors.

Of course they need the money. In their annual report, they show that a full 29% of their revenue goes to salaries and for other administrative purposes, not to authors or publishers, as is their mandate. The norm for non-profit organizations is less than 10% for salaries and administration. They also refuse to publish their salaries. In addition, they make constant reference to a “repertoire” of licensed works that they will not reveal. Universities have discovered that they have been charged by Access Copyright for content that is not in this hidden repertoire.

They want to increase their per student fee more than tenfold, from less than $4 to $45. They are pushing for this tariff along with the digital extension, because increasingly educational institutions are using less and less print and more and more digital copies.  In fact, because of this, Access Copyright tariff fees should be reduced rather than increased. Universities are using far more open educational resources and content that is already licensed by their libraries than ever before. Instructors are posting their lectures online or referring their students to online articles, while making less use of printed handouts. To top it off, Access Copyright holds only a tiny volume of digital rights in their repertoire. No wonder that they also now want to put a tariff on using the Internet, which if accepted would leave Canadian instructors and students as the only people in the world with no right to freely visit open websites.

The public may not be aware of Access Copyright’s stringent licensing practices. For example, did you know that their license prohibits stenciling or drawing in the classroom. It prohibits scanning documents and transmitting them, unless they are immediately printed out and the electronic copy is destroyed. Interestingly, they insist on getting electronic copies of reports from universities, but expect universities to live in the pre-digital age. Universities must store content in filing cabinets, while Access Copyright uses a database.

Access Copyright also makes a point of granting us rights that we already possess, like making copies of old and rotting books to preserve them. However, they limit this right in their license to only 20% of the book. They also quite generously grant the right to make readable copies for the visually disabled.  Also, their license prohibits teachers from writing comments on works distributed to students? In fact, they are not allowed to alter the work in any way, even enlarging the font for aged students is not permitted. However, they do allow teachers to make comments on another sheet of paper. Do we really need their permission for that? We have these rights in any case. They have no authority to impose these restrictions through licensing.

Canadian taxpayers are supporting Access Copyright through onerous tariffs on our students and educational institutions. Do we now have to give them an advance so that they can impose a tariff and pay for their lawyers to challenge the right of universities to object?



  • I'm glad you set this post to "Public"; it's an excellent overview of Access Copyright's insane demands and universities' sane responses, and I've sent out a few tweets about it.

    Who is the compliant 1.5%, I have to wonder?

    Mark A. McCutcheon December 21, 2010 - 2:25pm

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