Why Can’t Canada’s Educational Administrators Do Math?

The education sector brings bad stats and worse calculations to Canada’s Copyright Review.

by John Degen

(Image courtesy me and my little camera.)

More of Canada’s educational representatives have recently made presentations to Parliament as part of the ongoing copyright review. Sadly, the justifications they present for their enormous content grab post-2012 are not getting any more clear. And that’s mainly because of the bad statistics and even worse math they bring with them to Parliament. One might expect better from educators.

Bad Stats

An earlier handout of data from the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC) — purportedly culled from Statistics Canada, and showing a Canadian publishing industry somehow magically thriving in an era of unregulated free copying — has now been demystified and debunked for the review committee.

This sheet of charts was questioned again and again by Members of Parliament, who worried the information might be “misleading.”

(Image of CMEC stats sheet courtesy the Parliament of Canada.)

MPs were right to be worried. There are factual and structural errors in just about every single statistic presented in CMEC’s visual aid.

To begin with, the first chart is titled “Book Sales in Canada,” but for the later years in its comparison it actually includes data on export sales and agency representation by Canadian publishers… in other words it adds numbers for non-Canadian books and sales of books outside of Canada on top of the “Canada” numbers.

This mixing and muddling of markets disguises the very real damage Canadian authors and publishers have suffered at home as they try to sell into their own educational market. That evidence has been presented to the review in good faith through direct reporting from publishers.

The net value of book sales in Canada has actually declined by a full 20% since 2010, which represents a $284 million loss, of which $132 million is just the loss of value for sales to educational institutions. Those are the real numbers… for Canada.*

So, to be clear, the situation CMEC says looks like this:

Actually looks like this:

The CMEC numbers also showed a sudden and miraculous increase for author incomes, despite well-documented worldwide trends showing the opposite, and direct testimony to Parliament by professional authors willing to reveal their own earnings.

According to CMEC, authors are actually making more today than they were before all the free copying began.

How could that be?

Easy — the stats used to create CMEC’s author income chart show all earned income, not just the income earned from writing. It being generally very difficult to make a living as an author in Canada (especially these days) most authors have been forced to find other sources of income not directly related to their writing, and those other incomes are mixed into CMEC’s stats. In other words, CMEC included the money authors might make from, say, working part time at Home Depot, or driving for Uber. They also were not entirely clear on whether those numbers were adjusted for inflation.

The addition of extra income streams on top of the income one is actually studying does tend to make for higher numbers. Totally misleading numbers, sure, but definitely higher numbers.

To be clear, time spent making additional income elsewhere is time not spent creating works for Canadian students and educators.

(TWUC’s income survey report, courtesy TWUC.)

Take out the extra income inflating CMEC’s stats and you get the real picture. The Writers’ Union of Canada conducted an income survey of its members, measuring their writing-related income only. Fully adjusted for inflation, it showed a 27% decrease in income for authors in Canada between 1998 and 2014.

In effect CMEC is proudly explaining to Parliament that while authors have indeed been driven to other work by the explosion of free copying in the education sector, at least they are making a tiny bit more from that non-writing work (but maybe not, depending on inflation).

Powerful stuff.

Terrible Math

Despite having the evidence explained again and again, educational representatives before Parliament continue to be baffled by the 600 million pages of published work copied without licence every year. The mathematical and logistical gymnastics they perform trying to dismiss or downplay that number are wonders to behold:

If there are 600 million copies per year, and if there are five million students, that’s 120 copies per student per year. That makes how much per month? In 10 months, that makes six copies per student per month. I’m getting that wrong. My math is not my strong suit. Anyway, it makes for a low enough number…

testimony from Cynthia Andrew (Policy Analyst, Canadian School Boards Association)

If we accept the 600-million-copy figure that’s been presented, if you look at 2% of that — I wasn’t a math major by the way — what we’ve come up with is fewer than two copies per student per school year.

testimony from Hon. Zach Churchill (Minister, Nova Scotia Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, Council of Ministers of Education, Canada):

For the moment, let’s ignore the glaring errors, leaps of logic, and discrepancies in these off-the-cuff calculations. The central problem with each of these attempts to justify the massive amounts of copying being discussed is that neither of these witnesses seems to understand what those 600 million pages are.

So, let’s go over that number again.

600 million pages is what the combined evidence in front of both Federal Court and the Copyright Board has established as fact. Considering that the education sector is less inclined these days to share its own copying numbers (and this amount was only extracted in proceedings against education’s objections), this is the most accurate measure we have. It’s extremely likely that many, many more than 600 million pages are copied each year without a licence in Canadian schools, colleges and universities — keep in mind, only York University’s copying has been examined in court (so far), and there are many more universities and colleges in Canada. But again, this is the number the available evidence produces.

Both educational witnesses quoted above seem to be trying to suggest this copying is almost all incidental classroom use (what they would claim as a fair dealing). But that question was also tested and decided before the Federal Court. The court concluded that the copying was “a mass and massive enterprise where course packs and materials distributed through LMSs operate as the source material for education” and that there is “overwhelming evidence” of economic harm to writers and publishers.

Clearly, most of this copying is aimed at creating print and digital course packs, and course management collections. There is no evidence showing the education sector intends to change these practices. Right now, all of that copying is done without paying the authors or publishers.

Get it? I hope so.

In a previous article in this series, I wondered why the educational sector continues to accept legal advice that takes them so far away from a respectful partnership with the cultural sector, and that puts them in front of Parliamentary microphones seemingly unprepared to justify such a move. Today, I’m also wondering where they get their numbers from.

If the advice and the numbers are coming from the same source, it’s definitely way past time the education sector looked elsewhere for both copying and legal strategy. Because this stuff is just embarrassing.

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.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store