Manfredi La Manna's article about bundling (15 February 2023
) got my attention. Not because it was an easy read; it's not. But because I spent a mind-bending portion of the last few years on the board of Canada's Copyright Licencing Agency. I was asked to go on the board as a representative of Canada's writers, who had had a substantial part of their property stolen from them when Prime Minister Stephen Harper's conservative government re-wrote Canada's Copyright Act in 2012.
The Copyright Licensing Agency's board then was made up mostly of CEOs and senior managers from publishing houses, and there were some big hitters around the table when I joined them. Copyright is not an easy subject, and in a lifetime of learning curves, it was one of the toughest I've encountered. But once you get past a certain threshold, I found it became a fascinating thing.
In the case of the agency, it wasn't hard to understand that writers in Canada had lost a significant percentage of their income at the hands of the Canadian Government. A PricewaterhouseCoopers' study pegged the loss at 80% per annum to the average writer. The cause lay primarily with the clauses that outlined a so-called 'educational exception' to copyright protection. Canada's education sector – almost every aspect of it – was quick to pounce on the very general terms of that 'exception'.
In short, they determined that they could copy and 'bundle' just about anything they wanted into what they called 'Course Packs'... without having to pay anything at all for the content. Outside of Quebec, not one Canadian provincial Ministry of Education now pays our Copyright Licensing Agency for the theft of our work by schools, colleges or universities. 'Theft' is a strong word, but Canada has court decisions to back that up.
I won't get into the sleep-inducing detail of it, but my take on the whole thing was that I, as a tax-paying citizen who happens to write books and occasional articles, was subsidising through both my taxes and lost income an educational establishment that was robbing me blind. If I pointed out to a librarian or an academic – whose written work is almost always jealously protected by her or his institution – that what they were doing was no different from walking into a bookshop, helping themselves to a pile of books and walking out without paying, they would get angry; each of them invariably on a vastly greater income than just about any writer they knew.
It got worse when the CEO of Canada's Writers Union, of which I am a member, told me that, fearful of Canada's approach to copyright taking wider root, European countries were now calling this 'The Canadian Disease'. It is worth mentioning that Scottish writers enjoy protection from the UK's very progressive, regulated licensing structure for educational copying.
Justin Trudeau's government, despite promising to fix Canada's 'new' Copyright Act, and despite aforementioned court rulings, has done nothing of the sort in its seven-plus years in office. The Federal Justice Minister, a man from the only province (Quebec) that actually pays when its writers' works are used in education studies, has a public history of support for weakened copyright law, and is reported to have stated something to the effect that everyone copies or downloads stuff illegally these days, and he doesn't intend to do anything about it.
Shed a tear then for Canada's writers. We've got some very good ones.
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