[A2k] Jon Marcus: Copyright battles break out in North America

Manon Ress manon.ress at keionline.org
Thu Aug 18 04:46:04 PDT 2011

Copyright battles break out in North America
18 August 2011
By Jon Marcus

Canadian universities in row over licensing fees as US awaits fair-use
ruling. Jon Marcus reports

Disputes in Canada and the US are fuelling close scrutiny of the use
of copyrighted material, with the outcomes threatening to increase the
burden on academics.

Universities in Canada have broken away from the main copyright
clearing house, which grants permission for use, in a battle over fees
for online content.

Meanwhile, a federal court in the US is poised to rule in a
precedent-setting case brought by publishers against a university they
say has exceeded fair use of their material.

"We are seeing people using more content in a digital environment,"
explained Roanie Levy, an intellectual property lawyer and director of
Access Copyright, which licenses copyrighted material and has proposed
a significant increase in its tariff. "It's starting to play out as an
issue that's being dealt with around the world," he added.

Begun in the days of the photocopied course pack, licensing agreements
between universities and clearing houses such as Access Copyright cost
universities in Canada C$3.39 (£2.11) per full-time student, plus 10
cents per copied page.

This adds up to about C$18 per student, depending on the discipline and level.

In exchange, the universities are allowed to post copyrighted works on
course websites and make copies of published works for distribution to

But with digital technology now allowing material to be used in a
variety of new ways, Access Copyright wants to raise its rate to C$45
per student.

Cash-strapped universities have baulked. At least 14 of Canada's 25
largest universities have chosen to break with Access Copyright.
Instead, they intend to seek permission directly from publishers while
also making fewer copies of material.

The break was started by the University of Calgary, where Thomas
Hickerson, university librarian, calculates that its annual payments
to Access Copyright would have increased from C$300,000 to C$1.3
million under the new tariffs.

"Very few universities have to this point agreed to it," said Mr
Hickerson, who added that the universities also object to letting
Access Copyright audit faculty and course websites to be sure they are
in compliance, as it has demanded.

As for lecturers, they are "caught in the middle", according to James
Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University
Teachers. "You (will now) have to upload your material and make sure
you have copyright for the material you want to use."

But he agrees that the new rates are unreasonable. "It's exactly the
time they should be lowering the prices, not raising them."

Ms Levy said that it would be easier and cheaper for universities to
work with her agency. She also questioned the motives of universities:
"Either they're going to take on the expense if they're truly going to
respect copyright, which will create an incredible bottleneck for
professors and students and ultimately cost more than the tariff, or
they will turn a blind eye to copyright infringement," she said.

In the US, meanwhile, a court case has been brought by Cambridge
University Press, Oxford University Press and SAGE Publications
against Georgia State University, which is accused of distributing "a
vast amount" of material without permission.

The publishers say the electronic distribution of books and journals
is devastating academic presses, which depend on the revenues to
support scholarly publishing.

Universities argue that existing US law allows for the duplication of
limited amounts of copyrighted material for educational purposes.

But in the face of legal action, Georgia State and others have now
changed their policies by providing "fair-use checklists" to ensure
that permission is always obtained.

The outcome of the court case, expected in the autumn, is awaited with interest.

Manon Anne Ress
Knowledge Ecology International
1621 Connecticut Ave, NW, Suite 500
Washington, DC 20009 USA
manon.ress at keionline.org

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