Copyright Act Fails: Memo

The Department of Canadian Heritage in an Access To Information memo says current copyright policy has let down creators. Witnesses at the Commons industry committee have complained of steep losses due to free photocopying by institutions.

“Copyright is not necessarily supporting them well,” said the 2017 memo Parliamentary Review And Creator Focus; “Cultural stakeholders have expressed the need to ensure Canadian creators share in the financial rewards resulting from increased dissemination of digital cultural content.”

More than a quarter of Canadians, 26 percent, admit to online theft of music, e-books, movies, software, TV shows and video games, according to a May 29 Industry Canada report Study Of Online Consumption Of Copyrighted Content: Attitudes Toward And Prevalence Of Copyright Infringement In Canada. Respondents told federal researchers they stole material because it was “easy to do” (39 percent) and “it’s what everyone does” (24 percent).

“How will the Minister ensure the upcoming parliamentary review of copyright will focus on creators?” staff wrote in the heritage department memo. “Part of a parliamentary committee’s task is to hear from Canadians on their challenges and priorities for action.”

“Throughout consultations on Canadian content in a digital world, we heard from Canadians and Canadian creators in particular,” the memo continued. “We heard that, while copyright remains a vital part of our creative economy moving forward, many creators are struggling to make a return on their creative investments.”

The current Copyright Act includes a “fair dealing” provision that permits free photocopying of works for private study or personal research. The Supreme Court in a 2012 decision Alberta v. Access Copyright expanded private study to include wholesale photocopying of textbooks and literature for classroom use. A federal judge in 2017 faulted York University for using free photocopies in millions of student course packs.

Authors earlier testified at committee hearings they’d suffered serious loss of income due to free photocopying. “My income is down 90 percent to $12,000,” said novelist Sylvia McNicoll of Burlington, Ont. McNicoll published two novels last year.

“I’m trying to make a living. It’s impossible,” said McNicoll; “I am drawing my pension and cashing in my registered retirement funds. After that, I will sell my house. What does that mean for future writers and cultural workers? Your job must become your hobby. You do it on your lunch break.”

Winnipeg novelist Patricia Robertson told the Commons industry committee her 2017 income of $10,353 was comprised mainly of a $10,000 Manitoba arts grant. “Large corporations including universities take all possible steps to protect their own intellectual property, yet apparently Canadian writers – who provide the imaginative and creative work that Canadian students read – are expected to underwrite the educational sector essentially for free.

Copyright hearings will resume after Parliament returns from its summer recess September 17.

By Staff

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