Copyright fee could rise

Access Copyright, a Canadian copyright organization, has proposed a new tariff for Canadian universities that would amount to a yearly $45 royalty payment for each full-time student. Colleges will be charged $35 for each of their students.

The tariff, effective January 1, 2011, replaces the current royalty payment structure that universities in every province except Quebec operate under with Access, a $3.38 flat rate plus ten cents for each copied page, including material used in course packs.

“The current arrangement is very much a user-pay system,” said Wilfrid Laurier University’s secretary and general counsel Shereen Rowe. “If you don’t buy a course pack you don’t pay the Access Copyright tariff.”

She explained that the new tariff amounts to a “head tax” on students who will be charged the full amount regardless of if their classes require course packs at all. “It is going to be a cost that’s passed on to students in some way, shape or form,” she said.

The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) is the organization that represents universities in negotiations with Access, in this case though, negotiations never took place before the tariff was filed.

The matter is now before the Canadian copyright board. The AUCC argues that Access never provided an opportunity for discussion before moving the tariff forward while Access argues that AUCC declined to meet for negotiations.

Access argues that the fee consolidates the old flat rate charged for each student along with the per page charge and will not significantly increase charges to students. “We’ve mushed them together so it’s a flat fee and also includes, which the previous license didn’t, some digital uses like scanning and posting works on to a course-management website,” Erin Finlay, legal services manager at Access said.

Under the old system, the cost per student would only reach $45 if students needed a 416-page course pack, paying the ten-cent fee for each photocopy.

“They’re not consolidating the fees, they’re adding a fee,” said Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) national director Zachary Dayler. “It’s not a consolidated fee because you’d still be paying your electronic journal fee, your library fee, the fees you already pay as a student to access the resources of your library or digital archives.”

AUCC legal affairs manager Steve Wills said that in a sense, Access will, under the tariff, be charging universities and by extension students twice for copyrighted works. “In my view they are seeking payment in some cases for works that are already licensed by universities,” he said.
University libraries already pay to provide students access to copyrighted materials through online databases, either dealing with Access Copyright or directly with a publisher in many cases. By charging a fee for each student and justifying the tariff as they are, Access “essentially want[s] payment for something that we’re already paying the rights holder for,” Wills said.

The important question at present is whether universities will choose to remain in an agreement with Access. As the tariff comes into effect in the New Year, institutions must accept the terms of the tariff for the time being pending a ruling by the Canadian copyright board, or look elsewhere for copyrighted materials for students. Universities deal with Access rather than resorting to sometimes complicated negotiations directly with copyright holders, and losing the current agreements with the organization would limit the amount of content schools have access to.

“At the end of the day it’s a copyright board process,” Finlay said. “They will listen to all sides and determine what a fair rate for that copying is.” More problematic is the length of the process. “It could take between two and three years for it to work its way through,” she added.
“For students, this is a fee, a levy that’s a barrier to our access to quality materials,” Dayler said, though he added that there would be continued resistance from institutions and groups like CASA: “I really don’t see it moving forward without a good deal of noise.”

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