For the second time in recent weeks, the Globe Mail – supposedly Canada’s “newspaper of record” - has published highly misleading and embarrassingly over the top op eds from authors who really should know better, given their notable backgrounds. No doubt they mean well and aren’t beholden to Access Copyright – but their opinions are so over the top and poorly informed that they have a very bad look:
Stephens’ opinion piece conveniently follows up just two days later on the
announcement by Access Copyright (“AC”) that it was
this, from the shrill
let’s get some big misunderstandings (including what some might say are “big
lies”, but I presume no deliberate intent to prevaricate or be mendacious) off
the table. More detail follows below:
- AC does NOT collect for the mainstream of creators whose works are used in the Post Secondary Education (“PSE”) sector. It is believed to mainly represent authors of Canadian literature, which is a fringe area overall in the curricula of the PSE sector. AC’s actual repertoire remains something of an impenetrable black hole. Full disclosure – I’m a member and earn enough for one very modest lunch a year – which is more than some serious academic friends of mine.
- AC’s incompetence and inability to fairly distribute its revenues to its creators has been known and documented for a long time, most famously in the 2007 report by Martin Friedland, former Dean of U of T Law School. There is no apparent reason to believe that things have significantly improved since then.
- The decline in AC revenues over the last 11 years had NOTHING to do with the 2012 legislation that added the word “education” to s. 29 of the Copyright Act. The users’ fair dealing rights relied on by the PSE sector have been in place for more than a century since at least 1921 and have been affirmed and confirmed by countless judicial decisions, including four from the Supreme Court of Canada between 2004 and 2021, including the two of the 2012 “pentalogy” decisions and the 2021 York decision, that were not based the 2012 amendment.
basic right of “fair use” (American counterpart to fair dealing) has been
hardwired into US law since 1976, i.e. “teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or
research”. See There is no imaginable reason for Canadian
educators and students to be at a comparative disadvantage to their American
counterparts, especially when American publishers are a driving force – maybe
even the main driving force - behind AC.
2012, the Canadian PSE sector has been spending far more and far smarter on
fair payment for authors by way of licenses of various kinds, acquisitions of
print or digital material, and targeted procedures to ensure that deserving
authors get paid. See this, for example, from CARL. It’s just that AC is apparently the worst
possible vehicle to ensure such payment. We don’t use a stagecoach anymore to
get from Ottawa to Toronto – and there are no “mandatory tariffs” that require
using one source or method of getting to there from here – especially via stagecoach.
- AC was born and nourished by a sweetheart deal with the Federal Treasury Board in 80’s. It has been protected since then by the Feds the Copyright Board – but any justification for such protection, if it ever existed, has long expired.
- The bottom line is that AC offers virtually no value at any price for its PSE licenses. And, of course, these “licences” are NOT MANDATORY.
upon a time Access Copyright was known as CanCopy – until I and others inspired
by former York University President Harry Arthurs - nicknamed it “Can’t Copy” –
which was much more accurate.
own blog is called Excess Copyright – a name inspired by Access Copyright.
it seems that “excess” has not served Access Copyright (“AC”) very well. AC has
excessively overreached with respect to:
- Demanding excessive FTE payments for PSE students
- Blaming the Conservative government for the 2012 (“Copyright Modernization Act” “CMA”) amendment that added the word “education” to the fair dealing purposes in the Copyright Act
- Blaming the Liberal Government for not undoing this innocuous amendment, which has not resulted in any extension of users’ fair dealing rights not already explicitly blessed by three Supreme Court of Canada (“SCC”) decisions based on the law prior to the CMA
- Purporting to have actual repertoire that is of any significance overall on the PSE system. AC’s actual repertoire – which is anything but transparent – is believed to consist mainly of Canadian literature. Such repertoire plays a minimal role in the PSE sector. Very few university and college graduates will ever be required to read Margaret Atwood, Alice Munroe or lesser literary luminaries in the course of their studies
- Purporting to collect and remit payments for foreign repertoire
- Refusing to meaningfully engage in transactional licenses, which are often successfully obtained from Acs overall more reasonable cousin in the USA, namely the Copyright Clearance Center
- Barking noisily with no teeth to bite. Remember that AC has no standing to sue anyone for copyright infringement, since it is neither an assignee nor exclusive licensee of anyone. This was explicitly confirmed by the SCC in 2021 in the York case.
upon a time, AC was able to convince universities to hold their noses and pay a
$3.38 FTE cost and offload the $0.10 per page “course pack” charge directly to
students. Of course, paper course packs have gone the way of the horse and
buggy. Moreover, the legally questionable “indemnity” that AC once offered that
was an incentive to that dubious business model has long since been unavailable.
I AC never has been a licensed
It will be recalled that for 2011-2013 AC
wanted a mandatory FTE tariff to be set by the
Copyright Board of (a) $45.00CAD for Universities; or (b) $35.00 CAD for all
other Educational Institutions.
As AC excessively escalated its litigation strategy by then suing York University to enforce its “interim” tariff improvidently provided by the Copyright Board, from which no judicial review was sought due to the strategy of AUCC (now Universities Canada). While AUCC and York continued to spend money and go nowhere, some institutions realized that there was no need and no point in spending lots of money for little or no value. Ariel Katz started in his “hall of fame” and “hall of shame” list. He and I blogged at length about why tariffs should not be mandatory.
and I, along with a very smart young law professor named David Lametti, who
later became Minister of Justice, made the prevailing arguments in the SCC in
the 2015 case of
Canadian Broadcasting Corp. v. SODRAC 2003 Inc., 2015 SCC 57 (CanLII),  3 SCR 615, <> namely that:
 I find that licences fixed by the Board do not have
mandatory binding force over a user; the Board has the statutory authority to
fix the terms of licences pursuant to s. 70.2, but a user retains the ability
to decide whether to become a licensee and operate pursuant to that licence, or
That message did not,
however, sink in to AC, AUCC or York. Instead, after years more of unnecessary
litigation, during which York unnecessarily and unwisely “bet the farm” on the
very poor AUCC fair dealing guidelines, the SCC finally made it sufficiently explicit
that AC’s tariffs are NOT MANDATORY in the PSE sector or elsewhere. Naturally,
where tariffs are de facto in contrast to de jure mandatory, e.g.
SOCAN tariffs for radio and TV stations, users will still keep on paying and
the Copyright Board will hopefully do a much better job than it has done in
recent decades of adjudicating any disagreements quickly and correctly.
forward to the wherein York University very nearly snatched defeat from the jaws of
victory but finally after 8 years fully and frontally faced the “mandatory
tariff” and brought in the highly charismatic and ultra competent barrister Guy
Pratte to adequately make the argument, at least on the “mandatory” issue, that
York had effectively sidestepped before.
all due credit to Mr. Pratte, my client CARL deserves full credit for
empowering me to make the finally prevailing argument that:
- Tariffs aren’t mandatory
- Because the tariff isn’t mandatory, there was no live controversy about fair dealing that required the SCC to look at the bad AUCC/Universities Canada/York fair dealing guidelines devised by AUCC’s counsel years earlier.
- While not necessary, the SCC at our behest did comment on some of the more egregious errors in the Courts below, e.g. re aggregate copyright.
Katz made his own supportive intervention that helped carry the day, ably
presented by Sana Halwani.
would shake their heads in total disbelief at the notion of a “mandatory tariff”,
which would be a poorly disguised Canadian subsidy masquerading somehow as an
authors’ “right” – like that $0.29 per blank CD we are forced to pay due to
Copyright Board impotence (to be charitable) to prop up another long due for
extinction collective, namely the
throws billions in subsidies at Volkswagen & Stellantis that will likely go
down the toilet even if the EV bubble doesn’t burst soon given the competition
from far more productive and efficient sources in China, Thailand or eve the
not pander to noisy demands from Quebec, where the mantra that more copyright
is always better has caused mischief and damage for decades. If the Quebec
government wants to shovel money at COPIBEC, let them. There is no reason for
this folly to spread throughout Canada at the federal level.
of the federal level, the kind of changes that that AC and its supporters are
calling for may very well be unconstitutional.
Education and property and civil rights are provincial jurisdiction.
Freedom of expression is guaranteed by the Charter. There are many other
issues. Proceed at your peril.
governments have tended to pander to copyright maximalists. But this hasn’t
always had good results in either policy or politics. Ask Sheila Copps and
Sarmite Bulte, for example.
current campaign of Access Copyright – and its gullible and shrill supporters ranging
from Kate Taylor and Hugh Stephens to the usual – should be disregarded by Government as the highly orchestrated public
interest scam that it is.
now – we just now have had a cabinet
shuffle. Sadly, Hon. David Lametti – Minister of Justice – is out. While
copyright was never directly part of his portfolio, he was by far the most
legally learned member of the previous Cabinet – or any cabinet for a very long
time. His potentially moderating influence may be missed. He was certainly very
knowledgeable about copyright – and was, as noted above, involved in the important CBC v. SODRAC
case that resulted in an important SCC decision that led up to the 2021 York decision.
we now have replacing Pablo Rodriguez as Heritage
Minister. Her qualifications for this job include that she is from Quebec, played
bass in a punk rock band, is the first out lesbian minister in Trudeau’s cabinet
and was Minister of Sport. That’s enough to play out very well in Quebec, which
is ultra-important to this government. Meanwhile, Pablo Rodriguez – who has
left her with a huge mess – remains Quebec Lieutenant and is now, inexplicably,
Minister of Transport. If Minister St-Onge is well advised, she will realize
that copyright law is not a hill to die on. She might wish to ask Sheila Copps,
Sarmite Bulte, and others about that.
other minister, who should historically be primarily responsible for copyright
law and policy, is FP Champagne of ISED, who remains in place. H may be mindful
that the copyright file is presumptively toxic and is best avoided at all
costs, especially for someone who may have leadership aspirations.
wait in trepidation to see what the PMO will tell these ministers to do in new mandate letters. The unfortunate breakdown
of the old cabinet system and the centralization of policy making in a politicized
and non-expert PMO means that professional public servants – whose policy
influence has declined precipitously since the days of Pierre Trudeau – will be
of little significance other than to make the PMO’s wishes their command.
all, the PSE sector and other use groups need to step up to the plate. Universities
Canada cannot be counted upon for leadership. It has failed badly on this file
for three decades – and particularly in the most recent. U of T’s new fair
dealing guidelines are a major step backwards and are disappointing to most
informed observers in the PSE sector. The retirement of U of T’s former general
counsel Steve Moate has been a setback for balance and leadership within the group of leading Canadian research universities.
searching for a new President, Universities Canada now has an opportunity to
show more competence and leadership on these issues than it has in the las in
the last three decades or so. Let us hope that that the right person can be
found. However, this recruitment could take a while and the resulting course
correction much longer in turn.
need to see the responsible smaller organizations with less resources but more
insight and ability step forward and write their own op-eds, do their own effective
lobbying (i.e. meeting with Ministers), and develop their own updated fair
dealing guidelines. Their silence after that Kate Taylor travesty was deafening.
I believe and that was purely in my personal capacity.
need to see a response to all of these big lies. Otherwise, given the absence
of any competent ministerial leadership, we could be facing an impending