You’re Not Suffering Enough

Not all the questions or suggestions in Canada’s copyright review are good ones.

by John Degen

(Image courtesy Access Copyright.)

For the past while, I’ve been publishing a series about the questions asked by Parliamentarians tasked with conducting Canada’s copyright review. And most of the questions being asked are excellent and on point, generally circling the one overarching question: How can we fix this educational copying crisis?

But not everyone chooses to see the crisis right in front of them. Astonishingly, some folks engaged with the copyright question like to suggest that somehow, magically, there has been no damage to Canada’s cultural sector resulting from the steep declines you see in the charts above. Or that somehow those very charts are too mysterious and opaque to understand.

Here’s a direct quote from a representative of university libraries who spoke at the same hearing I attended:

[I’m] trying to understand about the large numbers that seem to be missing from someone’s pocket book, and where they’re coming from, and where they’re going, and who’s missing them…

This statement was accompanied by a significant eye-roll, suggesting perhaps that maybe no money is missing from anyone’s pocket book and that somehow Canada’s creative professionals are just pretending to be hurt by the uncompensated copying of our work. The full transcript of that meeting is here, btw.

So, let me say this about that. It’s been a frustrating and expensive past six years for Canada’s creative professionals. Education’s refusal to pay for what it takes from us has forced us into expensive proceedings at the Copyright Board and into even more expensive Federal Court proceedings — all to protect our right to earn from our labour.

We incur these huge legal costs, spend buckets of time we could sure use on other vital pursuits, and get the judgements we need to set prices for our work. What happens then is those rulings are ignored by educational administrations, and they continue to take our work without paying for it. That’s why we want a change to the law. It’s not working for us right now, and we’re the ones playing by the rules.

There is actually no mystery or opacity about these losses at all. Look at the charts. They tell the whole story.

Who’s missing hundreds of millions of dollars? Authors and publishers, that’s who.

Where are those hundreds of millions coming from? They should be coming from fair and affordable licences for the use of our work. The green chart above is labelled Education Revenues, and it shows an 89.1% decline. That’s not a mystery; it’s an embarrassing fact for Canadian education, especially when they pretend not to see or understand it.

Where are those hundreds of millions going? Actually that is a very good question. The savings to education were apparently intended to reduce student costs… which hasn’t happened. Student costs have gone up dramatically despite unlicensed copying. So maybe the better question is:

Where are those hundreds of millions going instead? It seems to me that’s a question education and library administrators should be answering themselves.

Later in that same meeting, one of the Parliamentary Secretaries present borrowed time from a committee member in order to launch an extraordinary interrogation of the publisher witnesses. He appeared to be reading from an e-mail on his phone and while quoting decontextualized and misinterpreted numbers from two publisher submissions to the review, he seemed to be trying to suggest that publishers were somehow not suffering enough from educational copying.

This interrogation differed dramatically from the respectful and genuinely curious questions normally directed at both the cultural sector and education sector sides of the table.

The full publisher submissions so selectively quoted (here and here) actually detail highly significant profit losses and direct hits to primary sales, all resulting from the 2012 amendment to the Copyright Act and the education sector’s intransigence on collective licensing, and all forcing strategic decision-making away from Canadian content aimed at education.

That the numbers and percentages don’t look very big to someone not working in the commercial writing and publishing industry in Canada — say, someone with a tenured position at a university or making a large public-sector salary — is maybe not that surprising. Not many folks truly understand the limited income picture for professional creative work, or the masses of labour and investment that we put in.

At a later meeting, publisher David Caron noted that the loss of educational licensing revenue was the difference between profit and loss for his company. How is that not suffering enough?

That cultural workers and businesses should be challenged on the very idea of being successful despite unfair and unsustainable market destruction is, well, baffling.


I’ll end with this marvellous quote from Glenn Rollans, President of the Association of Canadian Publishers, who earlier in my meeting tried to clarify the role of Canadian publishers in Canadian culture, and why relative success is not a bad thing. Canada’s writers couldn’t agree with him more on this point.

“ What I’d first like to encourage you to not do is think of copyright as something that is adjusted to keep cultural industries within the lines. We’re supposed to do well. We’re supposed to be tigers for Canadian culture and Canadian identity.”

See Mr. Rollans’s full answer in this video clip where he is responding to a respectful inquiry from Guelph MP Lloyd Longfield:

(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,

The Importance of Markets,

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