Access Copyright opens new fronts in dispute with education sector
In a move it describes as a “last resort,” the copyright collective Access Copyright has launched legal action against educational institutions it says are using copyright-protected materials without authorization.
Specifically, the collective (which amasses licensing fees on behalf of Canadian writers, artists, and publishers) has launched a lawsuit against York University and filed two new tariff applications with the Copyright Board of Canada aimed at K–12 and post-secondary institutions. The actions are intended to staunch tens of millions of dollars in lost royalties since those institutions began opting out of Access Copyright licences en masse.
“We’re drawing a line in the sand to say that we disagree with what is being touted as ‘fair dealing,’” says Erin Finlay, Access Copyright’s general counsel and director of legal and government relations. “We disagree because the whole system is unsustainable if York [as well as the ministries of education] continues to use the material they clearly value for free.”
The York lawsuit stems from September 2011, when the university indicated it would no longer operate under the terms of a tariff approved by the Copyright Board. In a federal court filing, Access Copyright claims that educators at the university have since made unauthorized reproductions of copyright-protected works. It further charges that the university’s guidelines on “fair dealing,” as defined by the Copyright Modernization Act, encourage York educators and students to make unauthorized reproductions of materials represented by the collective.
Finlay suggests that other universities operating without a licence could face similar actions. The lawsuit, she says, “is part of a broader strategy we have in place to address the improper use of copyrighted content.”
“We’re not suggesting that York is different than any of the other universities that are relying on these ‘fair dealing’ policies instead of an Access Copyright licence,” Finlay says. “Access Copyright is looking at the practices of unlicensed universities across the country.”
Access Copyright has also opened a new front against K–12 schools by filing an application for an interim tariff with the Copyright Board. In December, provincial and territorial ministries of education across the country, as well as the school boards of Ontario, informed Access Copyright that they would no longer remit royalties to the collective after a previous tariff expired at the end of 2012.
That sector alone paid around $20 million annually in royalties to Access Copyright, which then flowed to writers, artists, and publishers. The ministries will now pay nothing for the hundreds of millions of pages of books, magazines, journals, and newspapers that Access Copyright says are copied by teachers every year.
“The outcome we’re hoping to see is that universities, colleges, and K–12 schools recognize that they value content written and published by visual artists and authors … and that they compensate them when they copy their works,” Finlay says. “The ideal outcome is everyone comes back to the table and negotiates a licence, and we’re open to doing that at any time.”