A bestselling children’s author has told the Commons industry committee she took a 90 percent pay cut due to free photocopying under the Copyright Act. MPs are conducting a statutory review of the Act for the first time since 2012.
“The world watches as Canadian schools download and copy curated content in a government-sanctioned theft,” said Sylvia McNicoll of Burlington, Ont. “I’m trying to make a living. It’s impossible. I must tell my student the same.”
“I am drawing my pension and cashing in my registered retirement funds,” said McNicoll. “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.”
The current 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 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.
McNicoll told the committee she has seen her novels photocopied wholesale by public institutions. “My grandson recently brought home a photocopied story in a duo-tang folder, a Canadian-authored retelling of an Indigenous tale – Canadian illustrated, Canadian published, edited. The photocopied story was 100 percent complete.”
McNicoll, whose bestselling children’s novels have been republished overseas, said in 2012 her income was more than $46,000 including $2,579 in royalties. “I just finished preparing my income tax for 2017,” said McNicoll. “My income is down 90 percent to $12,000,” she said.
Royalties totaled less than $400. The author said she published two novels last year. “It’s down from two mortgage payments and three weeks of groceries, to one week of grocery money,” said McNicoll. “Groceries have gone up.”
“This photocopying, of course, negatively impacts the publishing industry and the cultural workers involved,” said McNicoll. The Association of Canadian Publishers in earlier April 26 testimony said licensing fees fell 89 percent under the photocopying provision of the Act.
“We are suffering real time damage triggered by this Act,” said Glen Rollans, Association president; “The rights you protect for me are not taken away from anyone. They are protected for everyone.”
Eight provincial education departments – all but Ontario and Québec – on February 20 filed a Federal Court lawsuit for the right to continue waiving fees on photocopied textbooks. The lawsuit covers copying by 92 school boards in the eight provinces.