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Universities in dispute with copyright collective over fees

New proposed tariff is significantly higher than previous fee regime and will now also cover digital works.

BY JOHN LORINC | AUG 16 2010

One of Canada’s leading creators’ collectives and the country’s post-secondary education sector are on a crash course over a high-stakes dispute involving a new licensing regime, one that will eventually end up before the Copyright Board.

At issue is Access Copyright’s proposed “Post Secondary Education Institutional Tariff 2011-2013,” which seeks to replace a long-standing licensing agreement with the Association of Universities and College of Canada. The agreement involves the photocopying of copyright material on university campuses in all parts of Canada except Quebec, which is covered by another copyright collective. (AUCC negotiates a “model” licence, which is then signed by each of its member institutions.)

Access Copyright said it intends to collect the new tariff starting Jan. 1, 2011.

Earlier this year, Access Copyright – a co-op that collects and administers royalties from institutional photocopying on behalf of thousands of Canadian writers and publishers – announced it planned to replace the old licensing system with a new approach that imposes a tariff on copies made of printed and digital works that are used in course packs, as class handouts or for other learning purposes. Access Copyright hasn’t substantially altered its agreement with AUCC since the mid-1990s.

The cooperative is also seeking to make a significant shift in the tariffs it charges to postsecondary institutions. Under the previous licence, institutions paid $3.38 per full-time equivalent student, as well as 10 cents per page for course-pack copying.  Access Coyright’s proposed new tariff – which will ultimately be decided upon and set by the Copyright Board – is an all-in-one fee of $45 per FTE student.

The spike in fees is of concern to universities as they grapple with extremely tight budgets. University of Saskatchewan officials estimated the new tariff will add $550,000 of licensing expense to the institution’s budget, boosting the outlay on such fees from $190,000 per year to $732,500. “We’re weighing our options now,” USask’s director of corporate administration Judy Yungwirth told the institution’s news service. “This is a discussion we need to have – should we, or should we not, as a university pay this fee?”

AUCC’s board of directors consulted with its members this spring and there was “a clear consensus” that the association mount a challenge to the proposed tariff, said Steve Wills, manager of legal affairs at AUCC. The association sent a letter of objection concerning the tariff to the Copyright Board in mid-July. The board likely won’t hear the case for many months – well beyond the time the tariff is supposed to take effect.

Access Copyright officials said in an interview that they don’t expect the Copyright Board to set the final tariff at $45, but they denied what some in the university sector suspect – that the agency is trying to scoop extra revenues due to the long-term decline in the volume of photocopying. “We know it won’t be $45,” said Access Copyright’s legal counsel Erin Finlay, who described that figure as “a best estimate.”

Mr. Wills said it’s not clear how the organization chose to aim for $45, given what his office understands about the current revenues. Access Copyright, he said, collects about $2.5 million from the $3.38/FTE fee, and at least $11 million from course-pack copying. If those two figures are converted into a combined per-student fee, the total should be less than $20/FTE. “The $45 price is a huge increase,” he said. Much of the new fee, if approved by the Copyright Board, would likely be passed on to students.

The other significant sticking point with the new tariff has to do with Access Copyright’s goal of licensing the reproduction of digital material, a new direction for the organization.

Karen Adams, director of libraries for the University of Manitoba and an executive board member of the Canadian Association of Research Libraries, said the proposed licence appears to cover copies made of electronic journal articles in the university’s collection that are already under licence with other bodies, such as the Canadian Research Knowledge Network and journal publishers. “I don’t understand how Access Copyright can move [in] between the libraries and the publishers,” she said.

Wilfrid Laurier University librarian Sharon Brown added that her institution pays hundreds of thousands of dollars for electronic journal subscriptions and is concerned that Access Copyright’s proposed tariff on digital material may be “double dipping.” Mr. Wills of AUCC said that many digital copies are already subject to licences directly with publishers or other organizations such as CRKN.

While acknowledging that the “blanket licence” term has caused confusion, Ms. Finlay of Access Copyright insisted there will be “no double payment” because the Copyright Board will give both sides the opportunity to determine what kind of digital content is already covered and what’s “compensable.” Any materials already under licence with other entities “will be carved out” from the new Access Copyright licence, she said.

If there’s a silver lining to this fight, it is that some university libraries are seizing the opportunity to create much clearer and easily accessible information about the rights status of the electronic materials in their collections.

“It’s caused us to overhaul our catalogue so faculty can do the right thing,” said Ms. Adams of U of Manitoba. She notes that her group just went live with an online system that offers information about rights and use of each journal. New faculty members who may be putting together course packs are now receiving an orientation session on the system.

At Laurier, meanwhile, Ms. Brown has hired two librarians to promote the university’s electronic journal collection to faculty, reminding instructors that the collection is geared specifically to supporting the curriculum. “There’s not much excuse any more for faculty not to look at the library and find everything they need.”

Update: Check out the Canadian Association of University Teachers and the Canadian Federation of Students’s
statement of objection regarding the tariff proposed by Access Copyright.

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