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A response to Access Copyright CEO

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By Rory McGreal September 21, 2011 - 3:20pm

In response to the commentary by Maureen Cavan of September 20, 2011 in the Guardian Newsletter I would like to respond  to her “three unfounded objections” with the position taken by our university.  Ms Cavan suggests that  institutions are claiming that they “no longer need access to the millions of published titles in the Access Copyright repertoire”. If Access Copyright would provide us with information regarding their repertoire, this would be easy to respond to. However, they have never been open to providing us with this basic information.  Institutions simply do not know whether a work is in the Access Copyright (AC) repertoire or not.  What we do know is that for years AC has been charging institutions for works that are already licensed by the institutional libraries or are open access. A reasonable estimate would be nearly 30 – 40% of content that AC has charged for in the past is available to institutions through other licenses. This non-AC licensed content is growing and being used more and more.


The charge that some administrators have warned faculty that they will be the ones to face legal liability is spurious at best. Faculty are employees and in addition protected by collective agreements. And, the only ones suggesting that people will be sued are in AC.


I agree that universities have little basis for saying what materials they need licences to copy and whether they no longer need AC, but that is a direct result of AC’s refusal to list their repertoire. How can we possibly know. Does AC even know what is in their repertoire? We do know that they are charging universities for open access content or content that we already have licenses for.


The objection to reporting is primarily based on the onerous task involved in collecting this information, a task that would cost universities dearly along with the freedom of information problems that this reporting causes. The intrusion on academic freedom is also a serious consideration. Faculty are under no obligation to disclose how they go about teaching their classes. Ms. Cavan is correct in saying that reporting is not new. What she does not say however is just how much more reporting they are demanding from universities at our expense.


So, the costs of the AC “tariff” is not just the exorbitant increased fee for content of vastly diminished value, but also the excessive costs associated with their onerous reporting demands. If it is “disingeneous” for us to object to this massive increase, then AC can simply inform the Copyright Board to reduce their demand to one that  could be considered reasonable. In the meantime, universities must assume that when AC demands something that they want it. If not then AC is being “disingenuous”.


Referring to  “infringement on a mass scale “ shows massive ignorance of  and disrespect for universities, their faculties and our modus operandi.  AC seems to be hoping for this to happen because they are openly refusing to license content on a case-by-case basis. Rather than negotiating, they are trying to force institutions to accept their tariff by denying them the right to act legally.  This is monopoly capitalism at its worst.


Finally, AC’s pretense of being an organization that supports authors is challenged by the facts. Only a small amount of the money they collect is distributed to authors and they never disclose the salaries that they pay themselves. A huge portion of their funds also goes to legal battles against educational institutions.


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