Universities, copyright group brace for fight
TORONTO - There's a battle brewing in the world of Canadian academia.
On one side stands Access Copyright, a collective which has provided institutions access to a pool of protected intellectual work for more than two decades while distributing royalties to the writers, artists and publishers it represents.
On the other is a group of universities who no longer feel the need to pay for the services offered by the collective, opting instead to navigate the world of intellectual property rights without a middle agent.
Simmering tensions are now threatening to boil over as Access Copyright takes one of Canada's largest universities to court -- a move some see as a warning to others who've ended relations with the agency.
Access Copyright is claiming Toronto's York University, which opted out of an agreement with the collective, has improperly been reproducing and authorizing the copying of protected works.
The issue goes beyond a single institution though.
To combat unauthorized copying, Access Copyright has also filed two applications to the Copyright Board of Canada requesting certain tariffs that would require schools and universities that don't have an agreement with Access Copyright to pay established rates to use works the agency handles the rights for.
Those institutions wouldn't have to pay the tariff if they have direct licence agreements with publishers, use openly accessible work or copy a portion of a work small enough to be considered "fair dealing."
The entire situation could have wide-ranging implications for students and educational institutions across the country.
"At the end of the day, if Access Copyright is successful -- although I have to say that based on where the law is at, that seems unlikely -- we're talking about millions and millions of dollars being paid by taxpayers to this group," said Michael Geist, a University of Ottawa law professor who is an expert on intellectual property.
"The goal here is to scare post-secondary institutions into signing the licence."
The licence at issue is an agreement reached between Access Copyright and the Association of Universities and Colleges Canada last April.
The deal, effective until December 2015, requires institutions to pay the collective $26 per full-time equivalent student annually -- an increase from a previous rate of $3.38 per full-time equivalent student plus a 10 cents per page royalty for copying protected works.
Access Copyright said the new rate did away with the per-page royalty to keep up with the digital revolution, but a number of universities -- who were already paying for individual digital database subscriptions -- balked at the cost.
According to Geist, Access Copyright would do better to evolve its practices and expand its services in sectors beyond its traditional educational clients.
"The practices are changing, Access Copyright doesn't seem to want to change and so the move to the courts is really just that somewhat desperate attempt to try and keep what is an increasingly outdated model alive," he said.
"It's not at all about whether we protect intellectual property or not. It's just about whether or not there should be some sort of requirement to also pay Access Copyright."
For its part, Access Copyright says taking York University to Federal Court was necessary to break a stalemate. …