It was with disappointment that students received yesterday’s notice of an agreement between the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) and Access Copyright. The newly negotiated fee comes after a long period of uncertainty during which several Ontario universities chose to opt-out of Access Copyright or negotiate their own stand-alone agreements. The new terms of the agreement will result in a flat, per-student fee of $26.00 for access to copyrighted print and digital materials, replacing a fee that was assessed as the total of a $3.38 per-student fee for student photocopying and $0.10 per-page fee for course packs photocopied for classes.

While this new agreement ultimately fell short of the daunting $45 per student fee originally proposed by Access Copyright, and does expand copyright licensing for digital materials, the new fee of $26.00 represents a significant increase in costs for students over the previous tariff. With the full cost of the $0.10 per-page fee course-packs is factored in, most students were previously only charged an average of $15-18 annually in copyright fees.

Provincial ancillary fee regulations currently permit system-wide fees to be passed without approval from student governments, meaning that Ontario institutions will likely be passing these new costs directly to their students. Taken alongside expected increases to tuition as well as a variety of increased ancillary fees across the Province, this decision will continue the transferal of post-secondary costs to students. Fair cost sharing is a particularly important issue in an environment where Ontario students already pay the highest tuition and associated fees in the country.

What is particularly unclear is how this fee will be charged to students. Under current ancillary fee regulations, universities will be able to charge this fee to students however they choose. Currently, some institutions subsidize the Access Copyright tariffs, partially or fully. Other institutions charge a flat per-student fee and others are considering charging differential fees depending on the discipline. OUSA has been made aware of a number of different payment models, each of which have different consequences for students. We are hoping universities provide clarity in the coming months as they contemplate accepting this model agreement.

One of the most concerning aspects of this new agreement concerns the charging of copyright fees for materials in a post-secondary context, particularly digital materials. Section 3.1 of Canada’s copyright legislation states that it is not an infringement of copyright for a person acting under the authority of a library, archive or museum to make a copy for private study. Furthermore, the provincial governments of Canada are currently making a case to the Supreme Court that use of multiple copies for classroom study should be considered “fair dealing,” and should be usable without additional royalty payments. In short, the necessity for an increase in the fees students pay for copyrighted materials, as well as many of the regulations Access Copyright enforces, may change in the near future. If legal minds ultimately decide in the near future that much of what goes on in classrooms constitutes fair dealing, than this fee will have been applied to students erroneously.

Furthermore, the definition of a “copy” in the agreement encompasses digital uses not currently covered in copyright legislation. Pending changes to copyright regulations throw many of the interpretations of digital use as “copy” into question, while a previous Supreme Court decision ruled that individuals are not liable for hyperlinked content. Students are highly concerned that the AUCC has struck a deal that goes above and beyond current laws and regulations.

Students will continue to work with our sector partners to advocate for the expansion of fair dealing in new copyright legislation as well as encouraging the support of the increasing interest in open access academic materials. We believe that it is possible to explore these options while still ensuring fair compensation and recognition of publishers and creators. It is of the utmost importance that the whole sector explores all possibilities of access, efficiency and fairness together, and we look forward to contributing a student voice to these discussions.

-Sean Madden
President, Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance