Study Space – Copy Wrong

Copyright and students: the conversation usually revolves around concerns of plagiarism. But there is much, much more at stake.

For example, are you aware of how copyright fees affect your learning materials? One common misperception is that electronic materials can be easily distributed for free because they are easy to reproduce. However, students may not realize that schools still must pay publishers a rate for every copy that is sent to students?or that agencies like Access Copyright are seeking fees even for linking to free web-based materials.

Surprised? You’re not alone. Few students are aware of Access Copyright or how the organization affects the cost and availability of learning materials. But the battle rages on between universities, faculty, and journalists, and the copyright collective at the center of it all: Access Copyright.

Access Copyright is the familiar name of the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency. According to their website, the group ?provides innovative copyright licensing solutions to governments, businesses, educators and other organizations for legal, worry free access to copyright protected content while making sure that the creators and publishers are paid for the secondary uses of their works.? A lofty and honourable goal, to be sure, but the description really doesn’t explain the scope of the organization or the controversy surrounding its recent decisions. Rather than merely being a ?service provider for educators, businesses, school, government, and other users of copyright protected works,? the group has considerable leverage to enforce its rulings.

This became evident in September 2011. At that time, Access Copyright increased fees for universities providing copyrighted material, and introduced a new tariff that requires universities to pay up any time they so much as email a link to copyrighted material. The fee applies even if the email contains no portion of the copyright-protected material. While universities at first supported such fees as part of an ethical approach to ensuring that authors are fairly compensated for their work, increasingly schools are opting out of Access Copyright’s services. According to many universities, fees are unreasonable and reporting requirements have become unmanageable; worse, many schools fear that they soon may be unable to provide students with sufficient access to quality materials without substantial increases to already high tuition fees.

The fee increases are, in fact, staggering: for example, in 2010 the University of Calgary paid $27,500 in fees, and in 2011 Access Copyright requested a tariff of $45 per student (totalling $1.2 million).

Not surprisingly, the University of Calgary and other schools balked, and many are choosing to end their agreements with the organization. However, It’s not that simple. By ending its deal with Access Copyright, a university must then manage copyright and materials licensing on its own, and the result for students is a decrease in bound course packs, and more links to materials online.

AU is no exception: in September 2011, AU President Frits Pannekoek announced that the university would join ?more than 35 other universities in Canada in electing to opt out of using Access Copyright for permissions related to the use of third party materials in courses.? Like U of C, AU has begun to manage its own copyrights and permissions to use materials for reading files and other course resources. AU has continued to monitor the situation and has been particularly vocal on the issue.

Yet the battle is far from over, particularly as some universities, like the University of Western Ontario and the University of Toronto, are supportive of the agency. This has created concern that Access Copyright has already successfully planted the thin edge of the wedge toward unprecedented control over who can access materials necessary for education. This in particular in the light of the new Access Copyright decision which seeks to charge universities for forwarding links to material, even if there is no portion of the copyright-protected material included in the email.

Yet another rift that will likely affect students? access to materials is the one brewing between the AUCC (which represents the presidents of Canadian universities) and CAUT, which represents university faculty. When university faculty and administration are at odds, students sit in an uncomfortable middle ground?AU students watching the news lately likely already have such concerns?so this is another battle to be watched closely.

As of February of this year, CAUT has drawn the battle lines. A campaign notice on the CAUT website summarizes and strongly criticizes a recent agreement between Access Copyright and AUCC, and hopes to rally universities to resist entering into an agreement which ?harms the interests of academic staff and students, fails to reflect current law and undermines efforts to create better ways of accessing, using and sharing educational and research material.?

Next week we will take a closer look at that agreement and discuss why CAUT feels it disadvantages students as well as what students can do to ensure that they continue to have access to the widest possible range of quality learning materials.

How do you feel about Access Copyright and how it affects you as a student? Let us know, and we may publish your letter next week!