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Majority of Canadian universities sign licence with Access Copyright

Significant minority decide to go it alone.


(This story was updated July 12, adding University of Winnipeg to the list of opt-outs.)

About one third of Canadian universities outside Quebec have decided not to sign a copyright licence with Access Copyright, choosing instead to rely on digital licencing agreements, educational exceptions and open-access content for the majority of copying of copyrighted material and to pay publishers or copyright collectives on a case-by-case basis for other materials copied by faculty, staff and students.

The model licence was negotiated by Access Copyright, which collects copyright fees on behalf of publishers and writers, and the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada on behalf of its member institutions outside Quebec. Universities that sign the licence with Access Copyright pay an annual royalty fee of $26 per full-time-equivalent student. The new agreement remains in effect until Dec. 31, 2015. The agreement offered financial incentives to institutions if they signed the model licence by June 30.

Maureen Cavan, executive director of Access Copyright, said that 65 percent of universities outside Quebec that are eligible to sign a licence are now licensed, including those that remain licensed under interim tariffs, signed earlier, which haven’t expired. That means 35 percent are not covered by a licence. “Either they have told us they’re not [going to sign it] or they have not advised us,” she said.

“We’re concerned that 35 percent of the institutions are not covered,” she continued. “And that represents a larger number, 40 percent of university students in Canada, excluding Quebec, who do not have access to the Access Copyright repertoire” of material. (Quebec universities are covered under a separate pact with a Quebec copyright collective, Copibec.)

Ms. Cavan said she preferred to talk about percentages rather than numbers of institutions, because tallying the numbers “is not straightforward.” For example, AUCC has 77 member institutions outside Quebec, but only about 80 percent of them are eligible to sign licences: the others are federated or affiliated with a larger institution and usually would be covered under the larger institution’s licence. Also, several universities have dual membership in the Association of Community Colleges of Canada (ACCC), said Ms. Cavan, and they may apply to sign the model licence negotiated for colleges by Access Copyright and ACCC.

Paul Davidson, president of AUCC, said, “The licence is a useful tool for those of our members who choose it to approach copyright issues.”

The University of Manitoba, which had earlier opted out of the Access Copyright tariff, was one of the majority of eligible AUCC members that has decided to sign the model licence, citing price stability and protection from infringement claims. “Notable in the agreement is a statement that academic freedom and privacy will be protected,” the university said.

Some universities announce their decision

Only about 15 Canadian universities have announced publicly that they wouldn`t be signing the model copyright licence with Access Copyright. They include the universities of British Columbia, Carleton, Athabasca, Guelph, New Brunswick, Northern British Columbia, Queen’s, Memorial, Royal Roads, Saskatchewan, Trent, Waterloo, Windsor, Winnipeg and York.

Some of the universities that chose not to sign cited the cost of the agreement, which in many cases would have been passed along to students. Several cited the large amount of copyrighted material for which they already hold digital licences.

Gwendolyn Ebbett, dean of the library at the University of Windsor, said an important consideration was that the library had built a “substantial collection of digital books and journals.” She also pointed to an increasing amount of open access and creative commons material that is becoming available.

Several universities that announced they had signed a licence with Access Copyright said they planned to explore options to decide whether it was worthwhile to continue to be covered by a licence after the current one expires at the beginning of 2015.

“This agreement strikes a balance between the need to respect copyright materials and the need to provide access to important learning resources for our faculty and students,” said Deborah MacLatchy, vice-president academic and provost at Wilfrid Laurier University, in a statement. “We will use this period of certainty to further explore potential opportunities going forward.”

Meanwhile, Craig Monk, an English professor at the University of Lethbridge – which has signed the licence – noted that the decision by an institution to operate without a licence “privileged some disciplines” and would make it expensive for a literature professor to teach more esoteric texts in class. Unless he wants to teach mainly the classics, he has to copy a lot of material for large course packs (these are covered by the Access Copyright licence). “If you can’t ship 10,000 units to frosh classes from coast to coast, they [the book distributors] aren’t interested,” he said in a comment to an earlier article about copyright.

Opt-out schools had time to practise

Some of the universities that didn’t sign a licence have been operating without one since January or September 2011 and have had a year or more to put in place policies and regulations and to acclimatize their faculty, staff and students to working under a new copyright regime.

Carleton University opted out of the tariff last September, noted Peter Ricketts, Carleton’s vice-president academic and provost, and the university spent last summer putting in place policies, practices and procedures. “When we rolled out the new internal processes we also spent a lot of time trying to engage faculty and get them to realize we had to take copyright very seriously. It was a bit of a culture shift to manage.”

He said that roughly 80 percent of requests to use copyrighted material were already covered under licences that Carleton held. For the remainder, Carleton either got a digital copy under licence or dealt directly with the publisher or a U.S. copyright clearance agency.

There are risks to operating without a licence, conceded Dr. Ricketts, “but they are mitigated to some degree by your institutional due diligence.” With the appropriate clearances in place and appropriate measures to monitor behaviour and activity, “we think we’re doing our utmost to ensure that everybody on campus complies with the law.”

Although not the “prime motive,” the cost of signing the licence also factored in Carleton’s decision, said Dr. Ricketts. “We were estimating in the region of $650,000 to $675,000 a year. That would have been a big hit to the budget and we definitely would have had to pass the bulk of that to the students.”

One effect of operating independently from the Access Copyright agreement is that this has “improved the culture of awareness about copyright,” said Dr. Ricketts. “We work in a business that involves a huge amount of use of copyrighted material and we all need to be aware of what the rules and procedures are.”

Meanwhile, Ms. Cavan of Access Copyright said the collective will continue to monitor copying activity at institutions that aren’t covered by a licence. She said she wasn’t prepared to discuss how the collective would do that, but she noted that in the past Access Copyright has monitored copy-shop activity around the universities and the preparation of course packs.

Some institutions may still choose to sign a licence by Sept. 1, 2012 or Jan. 1, 2013, although the financial incentives decrease the later they sign on.


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  1. Rory McGreal / July 9, 2012 at 17:07

    You could have added that many if not most of the signing universities did so under duress of timelines and additional costs as well as their lack of preparedeness. This in no way signals any strong support for the model license. On the contrary, many universities are explicit in stating that they have every intention of leaving the license once they have made preparations. With the new copyright law,and the education extension to fair dealing, professors now have far more leeway in taking advantage of their fair dealing rights without fear of breaching copyright. Universities also need not fear being sued by an overzealous copyright collective “monitoring” their activities as statutory damages now must be related to losses incurred.

  2. Sina / July 11, 2012 at 15:30

    There are many tiny institutions, and it doesn’t matter whether they sign or not. It’s the larger ones that matter,as they carry the numbers. Your article didn’t help clarify the situation.

  3. John Degen / July 11, 2012 at 15:57

    Responding to Mr. McGreal – those outside the academy do not view reasonable timelines, reasonable costs and the need to be prepared for change as “duress.” We view it as business as usual. Nor do we see anything sinister in the idea of monitoring campus use of copyright-protected material.

    It is well within the rights of copyright-holders to investigate whether or not their works are being illicitly copied. To read anything more into such actions is to buy the ridiculous free culture conflation of copyright enforcement with an attack on academic freedom.

    I find it very doubtful indeed that Carleton University will actually save any of their estimated $675,000 in collective licensing fees given the need to create new staffing structures for individual clearances. And those individual clearances cost money as well. The estimate of cost-savings is rose-coloured at best.

    According to their last audited financial statements, Carleton University had over $23 million in surplus revenues for fiscal 2010/11, after almost $15 in surplus the previous year. The assertion that fair collective licensing for a huge repertoire of works is somehow cost prohibitive for such an institution is, well, extremely difficult to believe.

  4. Beth Maddigan / July 12, 2012 at 11:23

    Responding to Mr. Degen – your commentary against Carelton University “that fair collective licensing for a huge repertoire of works is somehow cost prohibitive…” indicate that you view the model license as an example of “fair collective licensing”. I would venture a guess that based on Dr. Rickett’s comments, Carleton University’s Administration does not share that view. Neither do I.

  5. Scott Leslie / July 12, 2012 at 20:26

    I will take as a direct quote by Ms Cavan (as it is shown in quotation marks) the following:

    “And that represents a larger number, 40 percent of university students in Canada, excluding Quebec, who do not have access to the Access Copyright repertoire” of material.

    That is patently false. What they do not have is the pre-authorized right to use it in prescribed ways covered by Access Copyright’s agreement. They are free to request and pay for the use, and may well have already paid for this through other means, which gets at part of the heart of the matter, Access Copyright’s unwillingness to be completely transparent about the entirety (including the digital portion) of what is included in “their repertoire.” (And let’s not get started on how they redistribute, or fail effectively to do so, unassigned excess collected tarrifs.)

    Here’s hoping too that the 35% opting out only increases as more schools who currently comprise “those that remain licensed under interim tariffs, signed earlier, which haven’t expired” chose not to sign on to the outdated copyright protection racket that Access Copyright represents.

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