The Importance of Markets

Uncontrolled educational copying has destroyed a market vital to Canadian creative professionals, teachers and students. We all need that market back.

by John Degen

(A bookstore near Parliament Hill, Ottawa. Image courtesy me and my little camera.)

As Canada’s copyright review continues, I’m examining some of the key questions raised by those conducting the review.

During my recent testimony in front of the copyright review committee, Member of Parliament for Guelph, Lloyd Longfield, wondered if there is a supply chain problem at the heart of Canada’s educational copying crisis… and then he rather charmingly apologized for using a business term when referring to artistic production.

(Centre, Guelph MP, Lloyd Longfield. On the left, Toronto-Danforth MP and Chair of the Heritage Committee, Julie Dabrusin. On the right, Sault Ste. Marie MP, Terry Sheehan. Image courtesy the Parliament of Canada.)

That’s okay. Creative professionals understand the business side of our work. We know how to hustle for a gig. We regularly sign sophisticated contracts and licensing agreements for our work. We can talk business.

My answer to his query is yes, there’s a supply chain problem. Specifically, there’s a problem with one vital point in the supply chain between the creators of studied content and those doing the studying. That point is the market, and for Canadian commercial authors that supply chain point has been destroyed.

Sure, when individual students go to a library and photocopy a tiny bit of a book for their own private study — say, while researching for a paper — the market has been respected. No-one expects students to buy individual copies of every book or journal they research for every paper they write in school. That’s why we have libraries.

But when over 600 million pages of published work are copied for free every year in the industrial production of course packs and study collections — production rivalling the very publishing industry it takes all that material from — that is not respecting the market. That’s destroying the market.

So, why should the end user care about our take on the supply chain? Who cares if our market fails? Well, no-one can keep working for a market that doesn’t exist. Canadian creators are already leaving the business or aiming their work away from education. Canadian publishers are making strategic decisions about what not to publish. All this means that our supply chain problem is also education’s supply chain problem. No market means no product.

We know how to fix this problem. The 2012 amendment to the Copyright Act led to the destruction of a vital market. Remove the educational fair dealing amendment and make collective licensing mandatory, and you restore a market that works for supplier and consumer both.

See my full answer to Mr. Longfield in the video clip below:

(Video clip courtesy the Parliament of Canada)

Read all the articles in this series:

Step One: Admitting There’s a Problem,

Asking the Right Questions,

We’ve Already Solved the Copying Crisis,

You’re Not Suffering Enough,

Nothing to See Here, Folks. Keep Moving

Spinning Out of Control at the Copyright Review

Who is Spinning Education into a Corner?


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