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TWUC protests UBC’s claim of cost reductions in student course packs

The Writers’ Union of Canada has issued a blistering riposte to the University of British Columbia, resulting from the latter’s claim that the cost of student course packs has been reduced by up to 33 per cent. In a broadcast e-mail sent on Sept. 11 and addressed to UBC faculty and staff, the university claims that it has achieved significant cost savings in the area of student materials created and sold through the UBC Bookstore.

From the UBC e-mail:

Price reductions have been made possible by:

1. Use of Digital Subscription Licences. A significant portion of the material used in course packs can be accessed through digital subscription licences.

2. Reliance upon Fair Dealing. In 2012, the Copyright Act was modernized and the Supreme Court of Canada issued several landmark rulings about the scope of fair dealing. The result is an expanded role for fair dealing in the production of course packs.

3. Avoiding Onerous Blanket Licencing Terms. When UBC’s licence expired, Access Copyright proposed dramatically increased fees and unacceptable terms including surveillance of student and faculty activity. UBC concluded that, within this context, proceeding on terms dictated by Access Copyright would not provide sufficient value for students.

TWUC chair Dorris Heffron today sent a letter to UBC president Dr. Stephen J. Toope, arguing that the savings the university is claiming come on the backs of writers who are not being paid for the use of their work. Heffron writes:

Guidelines claiming 10% of a book, entire short stories, entire chapters, etc. as fair dealing are not supported by established law in Canada, nor are they likely ever to be. Canadian writers and publishers, through our common copyright collective, are right now involved in legal action aimed at confirming such extensive uses are unfair to the cultural creators on whom institutions like yours depend for so much quality educational content.

She goes on to express dismay that a university boasting one of the country’s most prestigious MFA programs for creative writers should take what TWUC characterizes as a cavalier attitude to those writers’ livelihoods:

There is a terrible irony in a university like UBC, one with such an illustrious history of preparing creative writers for careers in the arts, claiming costs savings on the backs of Canada’s writers – a group who can ill-afford to lose any income sources. The Writers’ Union of Canada considers such unauthorized and uncompensated use of our members’ work to be expropriation of the property of some of Canada’s lowest paid professionals by some of Canada’s highest paid professionals. There is nothing fair about that scenario.

As of this writing, there has been no official response from UBC.

  • Don LePan

    Well said, Writers’ Union! UBC has been among the most flagrant
    offenders among the various Canadian universities that have chosen to
    try to re-define “fair dealing” in such a way as to cut writers
    completely out of the picture–along with independent Canadian
    publishers. The Supreme Court said in 2012 that “short excerpts” from a
    book still in copyright could be provided at the last minute to students
    without clearing copyright or holding any license; the specific cases
    in point were situations such as school teachers providing a page or two
    of extra math exercises to their students if they have run across
    useful material the night before. UBC and several other Canadian
    universities are trying to use that judgement to say that you can
    prepare entire course-packs of copyright material months ahead of time,
    sell them to the students, and pay nothing whatsoever to the copyright
    holders. According to their version of what is “fair” and what is legal,
    50 or 100 pages taken from a book in copyright can constitute a “short
    except.” What they are doing is unethical, in all probability
    illegal–and it is also immensely harmful to the long-term interests of
    their own students and instructors. If it is allowed to go unchallenged,
    there will unquestionably be far less material published and available
    for them to steal in ten or twenty years’ time.

    Don LePan
    President and CEO
    Broadview Press / Freehand Books

  • Joe Clark

    Another organization living in denial of the CCH ruling. Fair-dealing excerpts do not require authorization or compensation by definition. In fact, the only questionable statement is the claim that “10%” of a work can be duplicated under fair dealing. A nice tidy number, but unsupported and unsupportable. There is no bright line above which dealing is not fair. And copyright law does not exist to pay writers whenever and wherever they complain they should be paid.

    If the Writers’ Union believes it has a case, it can blog less and sue more. It doesn’t, of course.

    Incidentally, I see the invisible hand of John Degen in all this.

  • Joe Clark

    And if we conducted an audit of Broadview Press/Freehand Books titles, whatever those might be, for fairly-dealt-with uses of copyrighted materials contained inside them, what would we find, Don?

  • Ian Howarth

    OK, so what would we find? I’m on the edge of my office chair.

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