We’ve Already Solved the Copying Crisis

What if we had a one-stop shop for affordable content clearance and respectful payment? Well, we do, and it’s open for business.

by John Degen

(Image courtesy me and my little camera.)

As Canada’s copyright review continues, I’m examining some of the key questions raised by those conducting the review. And, as I discussed earlier, it’s clear we’ve moved past questioning whether or not large-scale copying at educational institutions is or isn’t a problem in Canada.

It is a problem. So, how do we solve it?

Member of Parliament for Sault Ste. Marie, Terry Sheehan, asked pretty much exactly that when I appeared before the review committee on Parliament Hill. After quoting from a Writers’ Union of Canada press release concerning the need for an immediate fix to Canada’s copying problem, he asked me for a specific suggestion for that repair.

(Sault Ste. Marie M.P. Terry Sheehan. Image courtesy the Parliament of Canada.)

My response is that Parliament must find a way to layer collective licensing onto the large-scale industrial copying that now takes more than 600 million pages of published work on a yearly basis. Licensing through a collective provides a one-stop shop for clearance and respectful payment.

But isn’t that the solution we used to have?

Yes, exactly. Ironically, since most Canadian schools jumped from respectful licensing to a claim of “fair dealing” their own costs rose, student costs also went up considerably, and it is now more difficult for teachers and professors to access the work they need for their practice.

As I explained to Mr. Sheehan and the committee, collective licensing is an efficiency. It’s cheaper and it works better than what schools are doing now. And what’s more, the cost of licensing is so completely affordable for educational administrations, there is no need for them to impose that cost on students. Many universities in Canada could pay their collective licensing bill with a fraction of a percent of their budget.

Why the education sector does not see this themselves, and why they continue to insist on a system that costs them more while providing less, is a paradox only they can answer.

Collective licensing is the solution. Other countries, such as Australia, insist on compulsory licensing for this kind of use. Canada should as well.

My full answer to Mr. Sheehan’s question is in the video below:

(Video clip courtesy the Parliament of Canada)

Read all the articles in this series:

Step One: Admitting There’s a Problem,

Asking the Right Questions,

The Importance of Markets,

You’re Not Suffering Enough,

Nothing to See Here, Folks. Keep Moving

Spinning Out of Control at the Copyright Review

Who is Spinning Education into a Corner?

John Degen is a novelist and poet. He is Executive Director of The Writers’ Union of Canada, an organisation representing more than 2,000 professional authors in Canada. He is also Chair of the International Authors Forum, which represents close to 700,000 professional authors worldwide. Views expressed are his own.

Read John Degen’s most popular Medium article: 5 Seriously Dumb Myths About Copyright The Media Should Stop Repeating.

© John Degen, 2018



Canadian novelist and poet, Executive Director of The Writers' Union of Canada, believer in the future of the book.

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Canadian novelist and poet, Executive Director of The Writers' Union of Canada, believer in the future of the book.