Sunday, May 29, 2011

Writers' Union of Canada Proposes to Break Ranks with Access Copyright

There is serious trouble brewing at Access Copyright. Michael Geist reports that the Writers' Union of Canada ("TWUC") has passed a motion at its AGM declaring that:
RECOGNIZING that collective licensing of copyright is a vital interest of the creator community, but that creators receive an inadequate share of the revenues of Access Copyright and are unable to control how the copyright income raised in their name is managed
And RECOGNIZING that key differences in the copyright interests of publishers and creators will always prevent Access Copyright from fully and effectively representing creators’ copyright interests
MOVED that a solution is an operational separation of creators’ and publishers’ interests in collective licensing, for instance, by the British model of a creator-run distribution collective that controls and distributes the half of collective revenues that belong to creators.

And MOVED that National Council direct an investigation as to how this significant reform of collective licensing in Canada can be brought about at the earliest possible moment.
 (emphasis added).

I am glad to see the day when there can be a better alternative to Access Copyright is finally approaching. The potential signficance of this development is enormous on many fronts.

This sounds potentially very similar to what I called for in 1999 in a published paper called Copyright Collectivity in the Canadian Academic Community: An Alternative to the Status Quo. It's available here.  

This paper called for the formation of a competitive collective to CanCopy (as Access Copyright used to call itself until some of us  started calling it "Can'tCopy" too often). This collective would have been started in and run by the academic community. However, the fact is that neither of the main national organizations that represent university management or teachers, namely AUCC and CAUT respectively, have followed up on this.

The paper provides specific analysis as to how and why a new collective can and should be established. If I may say so, the paper is just as pertinent now and maybe more so than it was then a dozen years ago.

There is no reason that TWUC cannot and should not break free now. I wish them well and would be happy to help.

Access Copyright provides well for its publishers, board members, staff and lawyers. I would be surprised if Access Copyright's average payout to writers for each whole year is as high as the average amount that it pays its external counsel per hour.

As for the writers, without whom there would be no literature to license, there is clearly serious discontent and understandably so - for the reasons Michael has mentioned the last few days and for many others.

This could be the start of some beautiful new friendships.