U Sask seeks alternatives for educational works: authors should too!

The following is my comment to an opinion piece in Straight Goods by John Degen.

There are many things in this opinion piece which are misleading or false. You need to understand what Access Copyright is in order to recognize them all.

Access Copyright is not a government agency or funding body, although it sometimes acts like one. It takes what appears like a “tax” on the money flowing through it to fund the Access Copyright Foundation, which is doing work far more appropriate for a government agency. If I were a member of Access Copyright having my money redirected this way, I would be quite offended.

Access Copyright is not a union representing a class of workers, even though people like Mr. Degen often try to confuse people into thinking it is.

It is a management organization that collects money from people carrying out specific activities on behalf of a subset of copyright holders. If you want to make analogies to other types of organizations you should think content retailers like Apple or Amazon which seek to offer “one stop shopping” for a large catalog of works.

If you look at these two things together and believe Access Copyright is closer to the public sector than Apple or Amazon, they still can’t claim to be a union. Anyone who is a member of a public sector union knows that the representatives of government agencies can sometimes be on the opposite side of the negotiation table from their employees.

Copyright is a series of activities which need the permission of the copyright holder to do. A big part of Access Copyright's recent lobbying has been anti-copyright in that they wish to remove the need for permission from Copyright holders and instead simply push more money through Access Copyright. While creating exceptions to copyright and mandating money flow through a collective may seem good to those in control of Access Copyright, it is bad for both creators and users of creative works. This removal of the full spectrum of choice that copyright otherwise offers to us should be of great concern to fellow creators.

It is simply false for John to claim that the announcement suggested "U Sask's intentions to never again allow use of our work within their classrooms". It is only a suggestion that these institutions no longer wish to pay Access Copyright as the intermediary between them and the authors. Any authors whose works are available via a wide variety of other sources will still be able to be used and appropriately paid for.

If an author says "Access Copyright or nothing", then that is their choice to refuse to be available to these institutions. It is like a musician refusing to sell their music through competitors to Apple then complaining that people who aren’t Apple customers aren't buying their music. It is the musicians choice to not license their works through competing retailers, not the audience.

I believe John Degen is doing a great disservice to all Canadian authors by suggesting they blindly support Access Copyright. Canadian authors may find that they would have a far more friendly and lucrative relationship with the educational sector if they pursued alternative license management organizations.

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Russell,I don't mind you


I don't mind you paraphrasing my arguments, but I'd prefer if you didn't indulge in such complete embellishment.

I suggest that no-one "blindly support" anything, especially Access Copyright. I would also prefer if most of the haters on AC were not blindly criticizing the copyright collective based on exaggerrated and inaccurate claims against it by prominent free-culture advocates.

I've never advocated an "Access Copyright or nothing" policy. All creators are free to make their own decisions about how they will license use and distribute their works. All institutions are free to choose how they will licence content they use, as long as they licence it. This will not be the case when opting-out institutions continue to use the AC repertoire without permission, which will inevitably happen.

I celebrate the diversity of the cultural marketplace. My concern is that all choices are equally respected, if not chosen. In the case of USask and the other opting-out schools, I don't see much (if any) evidence of respect. The much-maligned tariff proposal was only made AFTER these same schools refused to renegotiate licences while still using the works in question.

The move away from a robust, ever-growing and historically in-demand repertoire of Canadian works under licence at Access Copyright is explicit in the new guidelines (framed by CAUT) adopted by most of the schools refusing the tariff. What they can't get through fair-dealing, they will simply refuse to allow in their classrooms. I'm amazed at how little public resistance we've seen from the teacher and student communities to such a blatant chill on academic freedom.

Finally, you can quibble all you want with my analogy showing Access Copyright as the workers in a labour dispute but that doesn't change the facts about what Access Copyright is. It is a collective of creators and publishers, jointly governed and administered by professional staff. In this respect, it couldn't be LESS like Apple or Amazon, which are not owned by the creators of the works they sell.

AC is a coming together, a union, of collective interests in an attempt to realize administrative savings for everyone in the copyright marketplace and to provide strength in numbers for independent cultural workers. In both endeavors it has been extremely successful.

I am NOT arguing that authors should choose one licensing method over another. On the other hand, that is exactly what you and all the other AC-haters are doing. Furthermore, you all seem to be suggesting authors would do better with corporate-owned copyright licence management rather than controlling our own businesses through our own collective.

Not much to say..

Hard to have a conversation when there is so much disagreement on basic facts.

You can say all you want about your alleged support for creator choice, in the same paragraphs where you attempt to label and dismiss fellow creators rights activists trying to ensure such choice exists. The words on your own blog and elsewhere speak for themselves.

Access Copyright is not a union, any more than any corporation with more than one director is a union. It represents a business model, and with its fighting against pay-per-use strategies it is not even supporting the core model that collective societies were initially created to support.

There you go, proving my

There you go, proving my point about hating on AC without fully understanding them.

To compare AC's board structure to that of a standard public corporation's shows willful ignorance. AC board members are elected in a free vote at the Annual General Meeting, and nominees for the board positions are presented by the affiliate member organizations that make up the collective. These organizations also operate as grassroots representative democracies.

AC does not "fight against" pay per use strategies. It offers many transactional options. It has simply made a decision to do business with post-secondary institutions in a certain way, based on its own expert understanding of how that market works best. You are allowed to disagree with that analysis, but pretending it doesn't exist, or that AC doesn't do something it clearly does... these tactics are simply dishonest and beneath someone interested in actual creator rights.


Curious if you get dizzy with all that spin.

When Access Copyright unilaterally "makes a decision" about how it is willing to offer licensing to specific client bases, it is acting as a private sector provider of services.

Unlike most of its competitors, Access Copyright has legislative anticompetitive privileges encoded in the Copyright Act that encourage/impose the use of its services on both individual creators and users of those creative works. It isn't a level playing field against the wide variety of alternatives, so its choices are not at all like the choices made from its less government assisted alternatives.

Corporations have boards and AGM's, as well as vocal and silent shareholders. You can spin the ideal of how this association of associations should be governed, but how it operates is different than you describe it. There have been many creators complaining for as long as I've been monitoring about a lack of accountability and transparency of this group.

I'm curious about how you feel about some of these authors starting to discuss these issues via the Creators' Access Copyright blog. While I'm not endorsing everything being said, I think it is important for people to realise that the debate is quite active in the creator community. While I'm not a creator whose works are directly impacted by Access Copyright policies, many of the authors on that blog are -- and they are very directly critiquing your interpretations of current events. (sometimes by name).

I don't think anyone wants to read us having a pissing match about who of us is most interested in creator rights. I believe it has been obvious for some time that we each think the other is less interested and is advocating policies that are harmful to the rights and interests of creators.