Quill and Quire

Canada's magazine of book news and reviews

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.