Battle over copyright fees put on hold ... for now

Copyright fee increase for universities put on the back burner by Copyright Board of Canada

Post secondary institutions have been bought some time in the battle over copyright fees with Access Copyright, the collective that licenses copying and course packs for most universities across Canada.

On Dec. 23,The Copyright Board of Canada passed an interim tariff that keeps the agreement universities have with Access Copyright in place until a permanent tariff can be certified by the board, or the board modifies the interim tariff. Access Copyright’s proposed new tariff is asking for an increase in fees universities currently pay from $3.38 per student plus 10 cents per copied page for course packs to $45 per student.

Erin Finlay, legal counsel and manager of legal services for Access Copyright, told the Canadian University Press that the approval of the interim tariff was “great news” because “nothing has to change.”

“The institutions, the professors and the students, everyone can operate as they have been for the last 15 years,” Finlay said.

While the decision may buy universities some time to decide whether or not they want to stay with the collective, I can’t imagine it gives much comfort to institutions when the increase is still on the table, and it could be years before anything is set in stone.

Gilles McDougall, secretary general to the Copyright Board of Canada, explained in The Manitoban that it will be a “relatively long process” before the board will make a decision on the proposed new tariff. McDougall attributed this to fact that the parties who will be heard by the board, including Access Copyright and those who oppose the proposed tariff such as libraries and post secondary institutions, need a significant amount of time to prepare their arguments.

“There might be some surveys that will be needed in order to build their case and that takes time as well. [. . . ] It could take easily a year, year and a half, and that’s before the hearing takes place,” McDougall said.

The previous agreement with Access Copyright expired Dec. 31st, one which several institutions decided not to renew. One of the most recent institutions to announce it would be parting ways with collective was my school, the University of Manitoba, which announced to its staff and students that it would not be renewing its agreement with the collective just days before the interim tariff was passed. In a letter to the university community, U of M vice president (academic) and provost Joanne Keselman explained that in lieu of renewing the agreement, the university will use its funds to “modernize” their resources and services “rather than perpetuating the antiquated relationship with Access Copyright,” according to The Manitoban.

With so much uncertainty surrounding Access Copyright’s proposal, it’s no wonder that institutions seem unwilling to wait for the decision of the board, even if the interim tariff may put the increase on the backburner. Nothing may be changing right now, but the nature of the Access Copyright’s proposal has made several Canadian universities unsure if their relationship with the collective is one they want to continue. Considering how serious the implications of proposed new tariff are for post secondary education in Canada, the time given to universities by the interim tariff would be better spent developing alternatives to Access Copyright, rather than remaining clouded in uncertainty while waiting for the decision of the board.

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