Copyright tax could trigger digital shift
by Bryan Weismiller
Copyright legislation may be the furthest thing from most people’s minds as they welcome in a new year. However, changes to copyright licenses this year could see Mount Royal University students reading more online material to avoid paying higher school fees.
Prior to 2011, MRU held a license with Access Copyright — a collective made up of creators and publishers — that allowed faculty to create coursepacks and print handouts from sources that were part of the collective.
Starting in 2011, Access Copyright will no longer be issuing licenses and they’re currently trying to pass a tariff that carries much different terms than the previous licenses they were providing. For instance, the proposed tariff would raise the price per FTE (full-time equivalent, meaning a student taking 5 courses per semester) by more than 1300 per cent, from $3.38 to $45.
The proposed tariff could cost MRU more than an additional $330,000 each semester, not including extra copying fees. This increase could be passed down to students in the form of additional school fees.
Accepting the proposed tariff would also allow Access Copyright to conduct audits of student and faculty email accounts as well as Blackboard sites as a way of making sure that schools were following guidelines. Carol Shepstone, university librarian, expressed concerns with the proposed tariff.
“I think the terms of the tariff far extend beyond Access Copyright’s purview and they actually extend beyond our current copyright legislation,” Shepstone said.
Access Copyright’s proposed tariff is currently being reviewed by the Copyright Board of Canada. If it’s approved, MRU can still operate outside of the tariff, but the institution will have to abide by the tariff’s principles.
It’s a complex issue, but Meghan Melnyk, VP external of the Students’ Association of Mount Royal University, offered an analogy.“Think of (Access Copyright) like Wal-Mart,” Melnyk said. “You can go to Wal-Mart and it’s a one-stop shop or you can go to individual stores and buy it directly.
“Access Copyright wants you to pay to go in the store and pay again once you’re inside of the store.” Mount Royal has not signed on to Access Copyright’s proposed tariff, which means the institution will now have to make agreements with individual authors and publishers.
“Now we’re not going to Access Copyright, we’re going to the individual makers,” said Melnyk. “We are boycotting ‘Wal-Mart,’ for lack of a better analogy.” Mount Royal’s decision to seek approval from individual creators and publishers is one way the institution is handling the situation.
Faculty members also have the right to post links to the electronic resources that the library already owns. Shepstone said that the university already spends around $8,000 annually on electronic resources such as subscriptions to online journals and ebooks.
Speaking on behalf of the library in an email, Shepstone said “we are encouraging faculty to use linked reading lists, taking advantage of the resources that we have already purchased rights to.” However, Randy Connolly, an associate professor at Mount Royal, said that he is “adamantly opposed to telling the students that they can just get the stuff online.”
Connolly said he understands the university’s financial concerns, but he’s worried about students, because of the research he’s done on online reading. “The evidence is extremely, extremely compelling that indicates people don’t read when they’re reading online,” said Connolly. “They’re really just engaging in a scanning activity.”
He reiterated several times that students need to have access to printed materials that force them to slow down and engage in more thorough reading. “Making things available online, in my mind, is giving up and waving the flag of defeat and saying that we don’t care, ultimately, about what’s in the students’ best interest,” Connolly said.