Canada’s Crisis Triggers Downsizing at Access Copyright

From Publishing Perspectives:

Today, we include in our rights edition an urgent story that’s not focused on translation- and publication-rights deals but on a crippling copyright fiasco that has damaged a major publishing market for more than a decade. The news, arriving today (July 14), is not good. And copyright, after all, is precisely at the heart of every rights meeting, offer, and deal made across trading-center tables and borders the world over.

As Publishing Perspectives readers know, the story of Canada’s ironically named Copyright Modernization Act of 2012 has entered its 11th year. The act—like those parties taking advantage of it to utilize copyrighted material without payment—has crippled English-language Canadian publishers and authors, causing a loss of as much as US$151.3 million in lost licensing revenues.

The board of directors at Access Copyright—the collective management organization duly established by creators and publishers for English-language Canada—made the organization’s most alarming announcement yet, saying that it is initiating “a significant downsizing and restructuring of the organization because of the federal government’s decade-long inaction in fixing Canada’s publishing marketplace.”

The board’s statement confirms that “Canadian writers, visual artists, and publishers—an indispensable part of Canada’s culture—have been deprived of more than CA$200 million in unpaid royalties under tariffs certified by the Copyright Board of Canada.

“This staggering figure,” the board’s statement says, “is among the many impacts, including job losses and several educational publishers stepping away from the K-12 or post-secondary markets, that have hit Canadian creators and publishers since amendments to Canada’s Copyright Act were enacted in 2012.”

. . . .

What the board of directors describes as “mass, systemic, free copying of creators’ works by Canada’s education sector outside of Quebec since 2012” has led to Access Copyright’s “total distributions to rightsholders dropping by 79 percent.”

Despite the fact that Access Copyright, more than 30 years old, is “a key piece of Canada’s cultural infrastructure that Canadian creators and publishers rely on to be fairly compensated for the use of their work,” the government in Ottawa has not gotten around to addressing this fast-deteriorating situation, even after the national budget in April 2022 specifically promised relief for unpaid copyright holders.

The pertinent language in the federal budget pledges “to ensure a sustainable educational publishing industry, including fair remuneration for creators and copyright holders, as well as a modern and innovative marketplace that can efficiently serve copyright users.”

This, the Access Copyright board members point out, “was a direct acknowledgment of the harm that the 2012 changes to the Copyright Act have caused and the need for legislative action to repair it.” And yet no action has materialized. “Creators nationally continue to wait for the government to make good on its commitment, and the marketplace for a viable Canadian educational publishing industry continues to dry up.”

. . . .

Much of the world publishing industry has looked on in disbelief as the education system itself sued Access Copyright at one point, and as court rulings went in the agency’s and publishers’ favor and then against it—leaving a legislative remedy the only hope. By late 2021, Copyright Clearance Center‘s Michael Healy, one of the most influential voices in world copyright issues, told Publishing Perspectives in his annual year-end interview with us on copyright issues, “It’s clearly the end of the judicial road” in Canada.

Critics say that as much as Canadian Heritage—the cultural division of Canada’s federal framework—has been admired in many parts of the world in the past, the Canadian government appears not to care that its own botched legislative action has cratered its once-prized Canadian educational publishing industry.

. . . .

Speaking for the Writers’ Union of Canada, its CEO, John Degen, is quoted, saying, “The abandonment of Canadian creators and publishers is a blight on our country, and an international embarrassment.

“When the Copyright Act was amended to include a fair-dealing exception for education, the Liberals in opposition then expressed deep concern that it was likely to be exploited at the expense of creators. They were right; that’s exactly what happened.

“The government has promised to fix the gaps in the act many times, but we are still waiting for meaningful change. In the meantime, a key market has disappeared and, with it, countless Canadian stories.”

. . . .

The news that Access Copyright is downsizing is devastating to Canadian literary publishers, especially as there are solutions at the ready that would meaningfully address the current ambiguity in fair dealing and add clarity to fair compensation for the use of creators’ works.

“The federal government must stand up for Canadian creators and publishers. We are out of time.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

4 thoughts on “Canada’s Crisis Triggers Downsizing at Access Copyright”

  1. Of note is that the “Liberal Party” has been in power in Ottawa for many years now. Seems like their concern when the Act was passed has evaporated. (Understandably, this is likely a rather minor issue for them right now – they have many other problems to deal with at the moment. When Canadians start getting testy, and even downright rude at times about their leaders, there is panic in the corridors of government.)

    • As usual, the publishing world (mistakenly) thinks their concerns are everybody’s. Canada does have a pair of major crises to deal with but publishing isn’t it. The biggest is a housing problem that threatens the regime in its core territories. It’s a long story related to their reliance on wealthy immigrants to prop up its demographics. Housing prices in Ontario are Manhattan level compared to what the locals can afford.

      A bigger problem, though, is that it is the cash cow Albertans who are getting most uppity. And the ecotopians to the west aren’t helping matters much in blocking Albertan attempts to grow their economy.

      There be secessionist noises again, up north, but it’s not the quebequois this time. Although the latter did get their highest court to rule, back in the 90’s, that provinces do have the unilateral right to secede. And there are real cultural and *economic* pressures driving the political divide between Alberta (and a bit less in Saskatchewan) and Ontario.

      Some don’t even consider Canada do be a “real” country like other federal countries (US, Germany, Mexico) and see it more like the EU and the articles of confederation US. The power of Canada’s federal government over their provinces is more one of acquiescence than of obligation. Push come to shove, the provinces *can* override their Feds. Just another way Canada is not like the US.

      With an actual existential threat on the horizon, the Canadian central government can be excused for not paying attejtion to one of its lesser constituencies that is only now discovering that relying on government agencies for your well-being rarely ends with you being well.

      • Oh no, that’s not their biggest problem. Their biggest problem is that which affects me:*** the smoke from their wildfires has been ruining the air quality over here in Michigan. Granted I’m about 30 minutes from Canada, but per the maps, most of the burning is supposed to be out West, yet the smoke sweeps east, all the way over here.

        Weather reports constantly tells us to keep our windows shut, and that it’s dangerous for some people to be outside. This is terrible because I prefer to use cross breezes as opposed to air conditioning. But if you open the windows, the air smells like something is burning.

        It’s been raining a lot here, which helps. I keep wondering if it’s not raining enough in Canada to put out those fires already.

        ***I mean, if one is going to be insular about something. I’d imagine the air is even worse if you’re actually in Canada, near the burning parts. They have my sympathy, and I’m sure they’re sorry.****

        **** “I’m sure I’m sorry” is something Canadians say, by way of apology.

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