Why I applaud the Federal Court ruling against York University for copyright infringement

Posted by on Jul 15, 2017 in Brian's Blog, Justice | 0 comments

Like many Canadians who write for a living, I used to rely on my annual royalty payment from Access Copyright to cover some of my major expenses.

Access Copyright is the agency that collects licensing revenue from schools, libraries and other institutions that copy material from books, magazine articles and other copyright works. The agency then distributes the collected money to the creators and publishers of those works. People like me.

In November 2012, I received $1,976 from the agency. This was a nice piece of change. It allowed me to put snow tires on my car and buy Christmas presents for my family.

But that was the last time I saw a four-figure cheque from the agency. In the years following, my annual payments steadily declined. Last year it was $436. This year, according to Access Copyright projections, it will be about half that much. This despite the fact I have published two more books and dozens of periodical articles since 2012. How many snow tires can you buy with two hundred bucks?

The reason for the decline in my royalty income can be linked directly to the Harper government’s 2012 so-called “modernization” of the country’s copyright act, previously updated before the internet became a thing. The latest iteration of the law includes a provision exempting from copyright protection works copied for educational purposes. “Educational purposes” isn’t defined, so some schools and universities – including York University – took it upon themselves to create their own definition. They instituted new guidelines for copying, and they stopped paying royalties to creators and publishers on grounds their copying constituted “fair dealing.”

Access Copyright sued York University for copyright infringement. York counter-sued, using the fair dealing argument as justification.

This week, the Federal Court of Canada ruled in favour of Access Copyright. “It is evident that York created the guidelines and operated under them primarily to obtain for free that which they had previously paid for,” wrote the judge. The ruling means that all the other educational institutions using York’s fair dealing guidelines will now have to pay the piper.

Needless to say, I’m happy with this ruling. Since I started freelancing in 2000, I have been grateful for the fact that Access Copyright did the heavy lifting for me in terms of protecting my copyright. It meant I didn’t  have to spend time in my local library watching to see who might be photocopying something I had written.

I’m even more grateful for that copyright protection now that digital copying has become the norm, because it’s almost impossible to track. The expected bump in my royalty payments during the coming years won’t make me rich. But at least it will compensate me for work that York University and other Canadian educational institutions thought I should be giving away for free.

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Copyright 2017 Brian Brennan - Author

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