International Authors Forum calls on Canada to protect its cultural workers by repairing copyright

At its recent annual general meeting in London, the International Authors Forum (IAF) passed a special resolution calling upon the Canadian government to immediately repair its copyright legislation, after earlier amendments resulted in unsustainable losses to Canada’s authors and publishers.

The IAF noted the recent “Canadian Content in a Digital World” consultations, and a recent statement from the Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Canadian Heritage, that future policy “should address the issue of fairness to creators when it comes to how they can make a living in this digital age.”

The IAF statement, which was also posted on the Writers’ Union of Canada website, notes that since 2012, Canada’s writers and publishers have seen educational copyright agreements collapse, resulting in an annual loss of tens of millions of dollars. Canadian schools, colleges and universities, insisting they had been given broad permission to copy without permission or compensation because of a one-word expansion of Canada’s fair dealing provision, have in large part refused to sign new collective licensing agreements. Ongoing use of previously licensed material has resulted in a number of costly court challenges that threaten to go on for years.

“Author incomes in Canada are in a steep dive,” said IAF Chair, John Degen, “and the situation is unsustainable. Canada cannot expect teachable, high-quality Canadian content in our schools, if education is not willing to pay for that work.”

The IAF noted that outside of a copyright licensing context, post-secondary institutions in Canada appear to be copying more and more into print and digital course packs, largely without the permission of the author, or any compensation to either author or publisher. The educational sector has drawn up its own unilaterally-defined, legally-unproven fair dealing guidelines.

“Schools claim their guidelines provide clarity and promote respect for copyright,” added Degen, “but we’ve found the exact opposite. The Writers’ Union of Canada recently took action to stop the scanning and distribution of entire books on one university campus. Recently published, in-copyright books that were otherwise available for purchase were being scanned and uploaded in full to a public website, by scholars insisting they had the right to do so. They did not. As far as I can tell, the guidelines promoted by education are fostering just this kind of confusion, and creating a free-for-all of copying.”

The IAF concludes with a statement of support for a balance between user access and creator reward. “Respecting this balance drives creation and creates opportunities for students to access high-quality work”, reads the statement. “Without creator reward in the current context, Canadian copyright has fallen out of balance.”

Focus On Creators’ joint letter to Minister Joly, which has been signed by more than 2,500 individual creators, calls on the government to help Canadian creators earn a reasonable living, so that they will be able to continue to tell Canadian stories. Noting that Canada has two major opportunities to stand up for creators over the next year: Canadian Heritage’s cultural policy review and the five-year mandated review of the Copyright Act in 2017, the letter calls on the government to put creators at the heart of future policy. If you’re a Canadian creator and you haven’t yet signed the letter, please visit www.focusoncreators.ca/ourletter/ and add your name to help send this important message to policymakers in Ottawa.

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