Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Access Copyright activism disconnected from realities in educational publishing.

Dr Danny Kingsley recently concluded a series of articles titled The case for Open Research:  the mis-measurement problem (part 1), the authorship problem (part 2), reproducibility, retractions & retrospective hypotheses (part 3), does peer review work? (part 4), and solutions? (part 5).

Anyone wanting to understand some of the complex issues that are top of mind in academic and scientific publishing should read this series.  I found it extremely valuable.

The series discusses issues quite different than what some Canadians have been claiming are issues in academic publishing, namely the Access Copyright activism.  Their nonsense claim is that the primary problem is educational institutions using "foreign" free texts and this is pushing out Canadian non-free texts. (See: "Copyright-free" material is not edging out Canadian educational texts)  This misinformation campaign has even tried to waive the "Digital Canadian Content" flag even though modern business models allow for better localisation (making texts more Canadian) than the largely foreign educational publishers can.

Having given this a lot of thought over the years I have come to an obvious conclusion about why it seems like the educational sector and Access Copyright activists are talking about different things: they are talking about different things.

With educational and scientific publishing we are talking about largely non-fiction works created by and for the educational and scientific communities.  The authors are educators and/or scientists, and the (primary, but not exclusive) audience is educators, students and/or scientists.

What Access Copyright activists are talking about are largely fiction works created outside of the educational sector which just happen to be used in classrooms.  Think of that copy of The Handmaid's Tale used in English class, but not the physics textbook.

When it comes to budgets within the educational community the bulk of the costs are with the educational and scientific publications (journals and textbooks).  Given these sectors are predominantly publicly funded, it is unconscionable to be wasting taxpayer money by not adopting the most modern methods of production such as peer production and distribution such as peer distribution.  Fortunately these models are ideal for the bulk of this non-fiction body of works, and it is the various issues discussed in Dr Kingsley's series that have delayed this inevitable transition.

The fiction works which Access Copyright activists are talking about are at the level of being a rounding error in the budgets spent on copyrighted works by the educational sector.  These are works authored outside of the educational sector, and as more artistic works from the minds of individuals or small groups of collaborators do not lend themselves to peer production techniques.  These are works that could very easily be fully funded using a variety of techniques (I have previously suggested a transparent and accountable model based on the public lending right).

The political problem we are observing is a failure within Access Copyright itself.  The bulk of the royalties flowing through Access Copyright are destined to the very foreign educational publishers that modern business methods must replace if taxpayer are allowed any type of fairness.  Their days are and must be numbered, and we as Canadians (whether authors or not) should be cheering and encouraging this transition.

The authors of those largely fiction works created outside the educational sector may represent a minority of the royalties flowing through Access Copyright, but it is their stories that are used (abused) by the educational publishers to try to extract more taxpayer money by delaying the inevitable transition.  What these educational publishers are doing is throwing these authors under the bus, and creating a hostile environment where rather than authors getting paid well deserved royalties for the use of their works in the classroom they are being lumped together in the battle to save public education from the antiquated business models of older educational publishers.

The solution has always been obvious: the creators of these fiction works need to create separate bodies for advocacy and royalty collecting from the educational and scientific publishers. The interests of these two groups are not only dissimilar, but opposing.  What is good for the educational and scientific publishers has been very bad for the literary authors.  Too many of the existing groups have "leadership" that promotes the fiction that what is good for Access Copyright is good for writers, and this leadership must be changed if authors want to reduce their decline in income.

It is critical for the educational community to recognize this as well.  They can't be fooled by the misinformation campaigns suggesting that educators using royalty-free resources (online or otherwise) is somehow hurting Canadian authors, students, or anyone else.  Please pay attention to the lobbyists behind the curtains. We all need to recognize that it is in aid of Canadian authors, students, educators and taxpayers that the outdated business models and foreign publishers represented by that campaign be allowed (or actively encouraged) to fade away.

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