Landing : Athabascau University

Exchange with a Writer

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By Rory McGreal November 30, 2011 - 11:18am Comments (1)

Below is an exchange on points raised by a Canadian writer.

The Writer’s statements are in blue




RORY>> The term “Giving it away" is simply erroneous in the context of copyright infringement. Even a cursory examination of dictionaries will show that "giving away" means that the writer no longer has it. So when others use it even illegally, they take nothing "away" from the writer. However, when a publisher takes a writer's copyright, especially academic writers -- that is "giving away".


· Bill C-11 will extend the ‘fair dealing’ clauses of Canada’s Copyright Act to allow even more copying of writers’ works than ever before.

RORY>>> If this is the case, then Access Copyright cannot argue for an increased fee if fair dealing allows for more copying, how can they charge more for less coverage?? The major change is the addition of  “education” as a legitimate “fair dealing” purpose. This has existed in the USA since the 17th century and writers are doing better there than anywhere else.

· Many Canadian universities have opted out of Access Copyright, and have thus refused to pay licensing fees for the use of writers’ work.

RORY>>> This statement is totally incorrect. ALL universities will pay licensing fees. They just don't want to deal with Access Copyright, who charges exorbitantly for works that universities already pay licenses for, or works that are open access. Access Copyright has colluded with publishers in fact so that they will not give licenses to universities when requested to do so.

· Libraries are trying to attract more members to justify operating funds and many are doing this by giving away writers’ works electronically on a multiple-user basis.

RORY>>> This is totally untrue. Which libraries? Where? Libraries ONLY distribute legally licensed works and even for those legal works, multiple copy distribution is rare even when they have the right to do so. 

The points of consideration and concern from the writers’ point of view are as follows:

· Do these developments give Canada’s universities carte blanche to use writers’ works without paying for them?

RORY>>> Absolutely not. The above statements are FALSE and universities pay huge amounts for author's works. Most of the money however goes to Access copyright or the publishers not the writers. With Bill C-11 universities will continue to pay these fees, probably at a much reduced basis because the restrictions in the new law (DRM, licenses) will force universities to move to open access content rather than publisher-owned content. I see with open access a boon for many writers who will be paid more for writing texts etc. directly and opening up copyright rather than giving it away to publishers.

· Is this part of a more universal move by universities (such as the American Hathitrust universities) to use copyrighted material without paying for it?

RORY>> There is a growing realization by universities that they cannot properly teach with all the new restrictions being placed on digital content. If we cannot copy, paste, annotate, format shift, keep our content when paid for (dead dates), etc. etc., we will have to move to open materials. The Hathitrust wants to make available orphan works ONLY.  And make the orphans available ONLY to their library subscribers. If there is someone who owns the work then it is not an orphan work. An "orphan work" means that no one can be found to pay. Over 99% of the works are academic and old and have no commercial value. Those works that have commercial value are not orphan. If a copyright owner comes out of the woodwork and claims their work then there is a form for them to either donate it or take it down at their choice.  Why is this a problem?

· Why is the intellectual output of writers so often now considered to be freely available to all?

RORY>>> The intellectual output of academics has in most instances been given away freely to publishers who then charge universities huge fees to access their works. If a work is paid for by the public it should be freely available. Why should public institutions pay twice?
Academics and other writers can charge for their work. This is a good thing. I don't know of anyone outside of a few "radicals" who believes that ALL works should be free. Personally, I believe that publicly funded works should be free. Writers are entitled to fair compensation also either as employees or as entrepreneurs dealing with publishers or self-publishing as they like. The present laws and the new one support this.

· How are writers supposed to make a living under such circumstances?

RORY>>> The circumstances don't exist. A few writers can make a living under present conditions as has always been the case. Few writers ever make a living at their craft. On the other hand, there are many new writers, bloggers etc. who are actively making a living or part of a living online by releasing free material. This is not hurting the elite writers who are making a living in more traditional ways.

· Why is this happening, and what are the implications for Canada’s writers?

RORY>>> The world is changing for writers and everyone else. Deal with it. New business models are being created. Many more writers are making a living or part thereof online. Some distribute their works freely others charge for it. Some live off donations, some off advertising, some off subscriptions etc. etc.

· How can Canadian writers gain support for the right to be paid for our work?

RORY>>> I support your right to be paid if you can find a buyer. But if you are competing with other works that are free, this could be difficult. You cannot make people pay for the work of others who want to make it free. The law gives writers the right to be paid. It also gives the right to others not to buy your work and choose free material. In any case, talk to the publishers, they take more of your money than anyone else.