With files from Jonathan Alphonsus

Photocopying books, newspapers, and journals and accessing e-books and e-journals is set to get either a lot more expensive or a lot more confusing.

Trent is revising its copyright policies in response to a potential major fee hike by copyright collective Access Copyright. For two decades, that organization has compensated authors and publishers for the copying of their works by charging post-secondary institutions yearly fees for a blanket licence for photocopying and creating course-packs.

Now, they’ve proposed a new tariff regime to Canada’s Copyright Board that would dramatically increase what post-secondary institutions pay. Universities currently pay Access Copyright about $3.38 per full-time student. Access Copyright is now asking for thirteen times that amount – about $45 per student. At Trent, this increase would amount to around $250,000 more than what we currently spend.

The proposed changes by Access Copyright would also limit access to some electronic materials, place further restrictions on what can be copied and shared, and require that institutions monitor and report on copying activities.
Access Copyright argues that the changes are necessary to ensure that copyright holders receive adequate compensation for the use of their materials.

The Copyright Board won’t decide on the proposed changes for a few years. But dozens of post-secondary institutions are refusing to wait around for a decision, having opted out of doing business with Access Copyright earlier this year. The organization worries that by not paying for licensing rights, illegal copying at those institutions will proliferate and copyright holders will lose compensation.

Trent is working under an interim agreement for this year. It paid its fees to Access Copyright on September 1, 2011. Meanwhile, a working group of faculty and administrative representatives is being struck to revise Trent’s copyright policies in advance of the Copyright Board’s decision. Administrators won’t say definitively if student representatives will be included in the working group. The plan is to draft a policy by Christmas, seek out input on it campus-wide, and then implement a new policy next summer.

“We’re taking a very go-slow-do-it-right-the-first-time approach,” Trent University Librarian Robert Clarke said. “Given the nature of Trent—[our] spirit of consultation and getting all the stakeholders involved—it was felt that we shouldn’t rush into bringing something in.” He stated that decisions by other universities to opt out were made hurriedly by senior administrators, with little time for consultation.

Clarke called the proposed fee hike “excessive” but wouldn’t say if Trent is considering opting out of the tariff agreement for future years. Without the general permissions it provides, Trent students and faculty could be forced to seek permissions from publishers directly or limit copying to what is allowable under Canada’s Copyright Act.

Clarke predicted that the final fee decided on by the Copyright Board would be much lower than the proposed $45 per full time student, which might give institutions like Trent more reason to stick it out with Access Copyright.

However, other questions still remain which will influence whether Trent and other institutions stay with the status quo or go it alone on the copyright front. Most importantly, decision makers will want to know how electronic materials will be dealt with and how much scrutiny Access Copyright will have over copying practices.

In the meantime, Clarke advises that students and faculty make themselves aware of what they can legally copy under the Canadian Copyright Act. He also advises looking for licensed electronic copies via the Library website before considering photocopying something illegally. Another option is to seek out open access materials, which have no copyright restrictions. Open access is a growing trend to provide free world-wide access to published works.
Clarke added that the Library is currently piloting a service to help faculty get required copyright permissions from authors and publishers.