Asking the Right Questions

Parliament now understands we have a copying crisis in Canada. What are we going to do about it?

by John Degen

(Sunrise on Parliament Hill. Image courtesy me and my little camera.)

During recent testimony at Canada’s Copyright Review, I received a question I consider to be of critical importance to this ongoing discussion. Referring to the contentious state of educational copying, in which currently over 600 million pages of published work are copied each year without permission or compensation to authors and their publishers, Dane Lloyd, Member of Parliament for Sturgeon River-Parkland, wondered:

“Would you call this an existential threat to Canadian content and Canadian culture in terms of creation?”

(Dane Lloyd. M.P. for Sturgeon River-Parkland. Image courtesy the Parliament of Canada.)

And this question came after he had just finished querying college and university representatives about all of the content they use and, importantly, how much of it is licensed Canadian content that compensates writers — a query that did not seem to return any authoritative or useful answers.

I would have no insight, as my colleagues have mentioned, into how the writers are paid,” is how the college rep responded.

Mr. Lloyd’s questions cut to the core of what we talk about when we talk about copyright. Is the loss of enforceable rights and earned income an existential crisis for Canadian writers? Yes, of course it is.

As I mentioned in my answer, Canadian writers are leaving the writing business because of the current educational content-grab. I know this because they come to me and tell me they’re going.

Without a strong law backing the rights of authors to be paid when our work is used, there is no profession in cultural creation. Who can invest time, labour, ingenuity and talent into a marketplace that is not actually a marketplace? Who can work for free? No-one.

Mr. Lloyd’s excellent question was just one of many smart, probing inquiries into the state of educational copying, and the problem Parliament now faces of fixing the damaging loopholes that were punched through the Copyright Act with 2012’s attempt at “modernization.”

In coming days, I will publish as many of the questions and answers as I can manage, to give them a higher profile on the public record. I know from long experience that copyright is probably the least exciting aspect of professional creation. It’s not what most people want to talk about when discussing writing and publishing. But it’s foundational to the modern business of being a writer, and right now the foundations of our business are seriously undermined.

The full video of my testimony and the testimony of Canadian publishing reps can be viewed here. Dane Lloyd’s question to me comes at the 16:33:28 mark.



John Degen is a novelist and poet. He is Executive Director of The Writers’ Union of Canada, an organisation representing more than 2,000 professional authors in Canada. He is also Chair of the International Authors Forum, which represents close to 700,000 professional authors worldwide. Views expressed are his own.

Read John Degen’s most popular Medium article: 5 Seriously Dumb Myths About Copyright The Media Should Stop Repeating.

© John Degen, 2018