Canada's universities and colleges capitulate to copyright strong-arm tactics

Allison sez, "Michael Geist provides some commentary on yesterday's announcement by Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada and Access Copyright. His conclusion: 'For those that sign the model license, the new AUCC - Access Copyright deal is simply more of the same: AUCC and its institutions pass along copyright costs to students, Access Copyright gets millions in revenues despite ongoing questions about its repertoire (with thousands used to lobby against education copyright reforms and most of the money going to foreign collectives and publishers, not authors), and the potential for digitally-oriented changes within Canadian higher education heading back to the back burner.'"

Given the legal reforms and the increasing comfort with operating outside of Access Copyright, why did AUCC settle? I have no inside information, but my guess would focus on three factors. First, AUCC has never appeared comfortable with the copyright file. For years, its members paid millions to Access Copyright without giving it much thought. It was only after the collective sought a massive increase that it captured the attention of senior officials at Canadian universities, who began to question the value of the licence. AUCC, led on this issue by a former publisher association executive, has always seen copyright as a cost, not a cause. Once Toronto and Western struck deals with Access Copyright, the broad framework was established and an AUCC deal for a model for its remaining members was likely only a matter of time.

Second, a prolonged fight at the Copyright Board (and perhaps later at the Federal Court) is very expensive. Unlike the $26 per student tariff that will be borne by students in their tuition fees, the regulatory and litigation costs are more difficult to pass along directly to students. By striking a deal now, AUCC saves millions in fees, though students will ultimately bear the costs of its settlement.

Third, the short term advantage may have rested with AUCC, but there were some serious longer term risks. While many experts question the Access Copyright repertoire and the value of its licence, the Copyright Board has increasingly fashioned itself as a guardian of the collective. The Board's decision to issue an interim tariff without any reasoning hours before most people were heading into a holiday week was an embarrassment (the claims of urgency were proven wrong) and left little doubt that the Board was prepared to do almost anything to assist Access Copyright. The subsequent decisions, which included warnings about the difficulty of opting-out of Access Copyright, further entrenched the view that a hearing before the Board would not end well for AUCC, no matter the law nor the limited value of the Access Copyright repertoire.

This is further to my story from February, Canadian universities sign bone-stupid copyright deal with collecting society: emailing a link is the same as making a photocopy, faculty email to be surveilled .

Access Copyright and AUCC Strike a Deal: What It Means for Innovation in Education

(Thanks, Allison!)

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