News  Ontario universities criticized for new copyright agreement

Canadian Association of University Teachers says agreement means “million-dollar increase in fees”

On January 30, the University of Toronto (UofT) and the University of Western Ontario (Western) signed a new agreement with Access Copyright to cover copyright-protected materials in print and digital formats.

Under the new agreement, which runs until December 2013, UofT and Western will each pay Access Copyright, a copyright licensing agency which provides access to over 22 million published works, an annual royalty of $27.50 per full-time student.

The previous royalty was $3.38 per student, with an added $0.10 per printed coursepack page. The new agreement does away with the per-page royalty for coursepack copying.

According to Stephen Jarrett, legal counsel at Western, students paid an average of $18 a year in royalties, which was in line with the Canadian average.

McGill’s annual copyright fee is $12.45 for full-time students, with an additional charge of $0.83 per credit.

Jarrett told The Daily that Western made the decision to move to a single annual fee because of difficulties identifying digitally-delivered copyright material.

“Quite frankly, an equal amount of copyright material is being delivered over online course management systems as is being delivered physically,” Jarrett said. “We have to get a sense of whether or not the materials that are being delivered are subject to copyright or not, and this agreement buys us a couple of years to look into that issue.”

The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) has condemned the agreement. In a statement released on their website, the organization argues that the new agreement “allows for the surveillance of faculty correspondence, unjustified restriction to copyrighted works, and more than a million-dollar increase in fees.”

The CAUT notes that wording in the agreements defines copying as “posting a link or hyperlink to a digital copy.”

However, each agreement also explicitly states that “nothing in this agreement restricts the ability of the Licensee…in any way that would be permitted by the Copyright Act, including linking or hyperlinking.”

Jarrett admitted that Western disagreed with Access Copyright over what constitutes copying, and said, “[the agreement’s] wording was a compromise.”

“If there were some judicial determination in the future that hyperlinking requires the permission of the copyright holder, [Western] would be covered under the agreement,” he continued. Jarrett told Western News that there was no provision that “provides for surveillance of academic staff emails.”

The agreement also states that, although surveying of communications content-management systems will be necessary, “Any survey shall respect all applicable privacy laws, including the Licensee’s privacy policies in effect from time to time, and the principles of academic freedom.”

CAUT is also concerned with the agreements because of what they perceive as Access Copyright’s “characterization of the education sector as disrespectful of copyright, despite the sector’s billion-dollar-plus annual expenditures on copyright material.”

CAUT argues that Bill C-11, the Copy Modernization Act that will amend the current Copyright Act, will be passed in the next few months, and that it “will strengthen the bargaining power of [the education] sector with organizations such as Access Copyright.”

Bill C-11, now in its second reading in the House of Commons, would amend Section 29 of the Act to state that “fair dealing for the purpose of research, private study, education, parody, or satire does not infringe copyright.” Bill C-11’s proposed amendment is the inclusion of “education, parody, or satire.”

Jarrett acknowledged that Bill C-11 will change the Act, but said that Western signed the agreement from 2011 to 2013 in order to be certain they will not infringe on it.

Over thirty Canadian universities have chosen to opt out of new agreements with Access Copyright.

Robert Gilbert, the communications coordinator for Access Copyright, told The Daily that the opt outs, and CAUT’s comments, suggest “that educational institutions decided to opt out of the Interim Tariff in anticipation of the fair dealing exception for ‘education’” that is currently part of Bill C-11.

Access Copyright doesn’t operate in Quebec; its counterpart COPIBEC licenses Quebec post-secondary institutions.

University of Toronto Provost Cheryl Misak declined The Daily’s requests for comment.