Saturday, June 25, 2016

"Copyright-free" material is not edging out Canadian educational texts

The misinformation campaign about the minor clarification to educational fair dealings is ongoing. This includes fictional claims about kids suffering, abusing the standard "why won't they think of the kids" in a way that I believe is harmful to the education of Canadian children.

As my minor contribution to the education campaign about the reality of the situation, and who is actually promoting the interests of foreign interests, I sent the following letter to Nigel Hunt about his oddly by-lined Copyright-free material edging out Canadian educational texts.

While this article accurately portrays the narrative often spun by John Degen, further investigation into the issue reveals a very different story.

Prior to modern communication technology like the internet it was very hard and expensive to get licensing for copyrighted works. To solve this problem Collective Societies were created that offered blanket licensing at fixed fees no matter how many works required licensing. These fixed fees were then distributed to copyright holders based on estimates from surveys.

In the case of Access Copyright, the collective with John Degen is promoting, the money flows primarily to foreign educational publishers. This is in addition to the fact that Access Copyright collects a quite large transaction fee, some estimating about a third of the royalties that flow into the collective.

Modern technology provided many opportunities. Copyright holders can now directly license their works on a variety of business models. Large databases are the bulk of what educational institutions are using for licensing, and this is a great win for copyright holders who no longer need to rely on inaccurate surveys and large transaction fees but accurate computer generated statistics of usage. Another growing model is open access where the costs of creating the work are paid up-front to the authors, editors and reviewers, with later access being royalty free. This also allows for friction free derivatives, enabling things such as low cost localization where a textbook authored by an international community can be cheaply Canadianized.

While these modernizations are good for authors, the educational sector, and taxpayers who are ultimately paying for all of this, it is opposed by Access Copyright promoters.

While it is important to waive the flag, it is important to recognize which flag people are flying. Those who support these modern advances are benefiting Canadian authors, Canadian educators, Canadian students, and Canadian taxpayers while those who promote the conflicting interests of Access Copyright are primarily promoting the interests of foreign educational publishers.

John Degen is also spinning a tale on one of the minor changes made in the recent copyright bill. Educational institutions are quite conservative, and are prone to over-payment of copyright fees by paying in situations where payment is not required by law While the Supreme Court has offered numerous rulings to clarify the law, educational institutions remained nervous. While it made no real change to what the Supreme Court had already stated, the word "education" was added to the list of criteria to help reduce the fears of educational institutions. It was not, as John Degen claims, a radical change to the law that allows educational institutions to not pay where the law previously required they pay, but to deal with overly-conservative institutions which were over-paying collectives to the detriment of Canadian taxpayers.

There are some authors who are trying to leverage their copyrighted works as a type of Trojan Horse to impose Access Copyright on everyone by refusing to add their works to online databases or allow transaction licensing through other methods. This problem reveals the fact recent copyright amendments didn't go far enough on Fair Dealing, and should have included the effect on the market as a major consideration. This should clarify that it would not be an infringement of copyright to use a work where its copyright holder can't be found or no longer exists (orphaned works) or where the copyright holder refuses to license on reasonable terms. This would provide a much needed economic incentive for those who prefer to play political games rather than allow people to pay them.

In the meantime, it is necessary for education institutions to warn staff about these political games and advise them to steer clear of the affected (infecting?) works. It is not educational institutions which are forcing these works out of the Canadian education institutions, but the relevant copyright holders.

Note that none of this relates to public domain works which are the only "copyright free" works. It is simply false to suggest that public domain works have any significant impact on this discussion, making the byline for the article quite confusing.

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