Following inquiries by The Varsity, U of T students have received a $13 reimbursment for fees paid to Access Copyright at the beginning of the year. In the past, the university has chosen not to reimburse students, as in Febuary of last year when they chose not to provide a refund for “illegal” ancillary fees. The university made the decision to end their license with Access Copyright earlier this past December, allowing for the refund. The end of the licence has been met with a mixed response, with student unions seeing it as a victory and writers unions calling it unfair to the Canadian community of creators and publishers.
The end of the license seems to be causing a problem for some professors as the winter semester begins. Numerous students have reported instances of professors explaining to their classes that they must remove content from Blackboard, and are unclear when or if this material can be reposted. In one instance a student reported an instructor emailing the material from a personal account so as to avoid the new copyright guidelines. In nearly a dozen other classes, students reported instructors expressing confusion and frustration over the mid-year switch.
Munib Sajjad, president of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), said that the union applauds the move by the university. The union feels the ancillary fee students were paying to the company were unnecessary given a 2012 Supreme Court decision that expanded the definition of fair use of copyrighted materials for educational purposes. Cameron Wathey, vice-president internal, echoed Sajjad: “This tremendous victory will save each student $27.50 per year, which ultimately will save students $1.5 million in total.”
Despite the positive outlook from the UTSU, several organizations representing Canadian creators and publishers feel the university is not respecting their work by ending the license. The Writers’ Union of Canada, the Canadian Authors Association, the Professional Writers Association of Canada, the Association of Canadian Publishers, the Canadian Publishers’ Council, and the Canadian Educational Resources Council have all expressed their disappointment with the university’s new approach. Dorris Heffron, Chair of The Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC), feels the university’s interpretation of copyright law does not support Canadian writers and publishers.
Currently the university is operating under a policy where if a professor uses 10 per cent or less of a work it is constituted as fair dealing, and therefore does not require a copyright license. “People aren’t buying our books, but they’re taking excerpts of them to teach, and that’s not supporting us,” explained Heffron. “I get a hundred emails a day from our members upset about this matter.” Heffron said that the union is considering a wide range of potential responses, but that a protest on the university campus will likely follow.
Bobby Glushko, head of the newly founded one-man copyright office at U of T, disagrees with Heffron. “It really bothers me when people say that we’re not respecting authors — it’s unfair because we actually pay authors a tremendous amount of money — we employ thousands of published authors. Almost all of your faculty are published authors; we have nothing but respect for authors and authorship.” Glushko went on to say that he believes the problem lies in the interpretation of copyright law — Access Copyright and TWUC believe that the university is interpreting the new fair dealing guidelines unfairly. “Our response is: Well is it fair for our students to be subsidizing these authors when no one else is?” said Glushko, explaining that he would have preferred to keep the university’s license with Access Copyright, but that they were unable to negotiate a price that the university thought appropriate for the services provided.
Executive director of Access Copyright, Roanie Levy, acknowledges that the disagreement lies in different interpretations of copyright law. “The university has indicated it will rely, in part, on an expanded interpretation of fair dealing that is not supported by law,” said Levy. “Canada’s creators and publishers believe that it will ultimately prove harmful to the supply of Canadian content.” Access Copyright is currently involved in a lawsuit against York University based on York’s current copyright office’s practices regarding copyright law.
Beyond disagreements about interpretation of the law, Access Copyright has also called into question the university’s readiness to take on the task of handling its own copyright; U of T has hired a single copyright librarian to oversee the change; Access Copyright is a national organization that has been handling copyright issues since 1988. “The issue now is the scope of the university’s copyright responsibilities in the absence of the Access Copyright license,” said Levy.
Glushko hopes he will eventually have more people working under him, but is unable to confirm if this will ever be a possibility. “It’s me, and two unfilled positions. I envision an office with three or four employees and a few student employees and myself. It’s really up to the budgeting process,” said Glushko. When asked if he was able to handle the copyright office on his own, Glushko was confident that he was up to the task. He explained that the university is using a similar model to the one it used before ending its agreement with Access Copyright.
According to Glushko, the only change since the end of the license is that where previously professors had the ability to use 20 per cent of any material found in the Access Copyright repertoire, now faculty must make the decision to either use 10 per cent of the material and have it fall under fair dealing, or ask the students to purchase the entire book. Chief librarian Larry Alford expanded upon this point, explaining that professors are required to take down any material on Blackboard that is included in the Access Copyright repertoire, but can replace it if it is included in a license currently held by the university, or if it falls under fair dealing or the public domain. If the material in question is not included in any of these categories, the faculty must work to either pay for it on a transaction basis or find alternative material altogether.
Glushko remains confident that the university is up to the task despite pushback and a need to divert other library resources to help cope with the shift: “We’re the University of Toronto; we’re a very special institution. We’re obviously going to try and learn from people who have come before us, but ultimately, we’ll create something that works for us.”
With files from Murad Hemmadi