Fair for all

For twenty-five years Access Copyright has gathered payments from sources that use written or visual content produced by Canadian writers and artists and then distributes those monies to the writers and artists who created the original work. It isn’t a huge amount, but not insignificant. Last year my payment was $995 for material that I had produced, mainly in books, material on which I hold the copyright. This year the amount was $770, a drop of 23 per cent.

Did certain of my material suddenly evaporate or did the copyright expire? No, some users of the material decided they’d no longer pay. In the last eighteen months nearly every Canadian university, college and school board (outside Quebec) has decided they’re not going to pay for published Canadian content that’s distributed to students either in photocopied or digital format.

Coursepacks, as they are commonly called, are handed out free by profs in place of a list of textbooks students have to buy. So if each member of an MBA class receives a copy of the chapter in my book Manulife about CEO succession in 2008 when the board chose Donald Guloien or a chapter from BlackBerry on how an entrepreneurial Mike Lazaridis dropped out of the University of Waterloo to launch Research In Motion in 1984, those chapters now cost the institution nothing.

I’m all in favour of keeping costs down for students, but this is institutional theft. Surely no educator would condone students stealing music by downloading a singer’s songs for free, why is content I produced now placed in the same open-to-abuse category?

Educators like to call what they’re doing “fair dealing,” but as Access Copyright notes on its site, “Nothing in the new copyright act or recent Supreme Court decisions suggests that ‘fair dealing’ for education extends to the deliberate, systematic copying of published content for aggregation and delivery to support student instruction.”

It’s entirely possible that individual teachers and profs are unaware that they are stealing, which is my definition of taking something that belongs to others without permission or payment. But administrators know exactly what they are doing and should immediately cease using Canadian artists, writers and publishers as a crutch to cut costs. Fair dealing should be fair for all. 

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