Beginning this school year, University of Toronto students are being forced to pay $26 in copyright fees, regardless of whether or not they use course packages or digital copyrighted materials for their studies. What’s worse is that this move pre-emptively penalizes students who already have access to these materials for free.
In January, the University of Toronto signed an agreement with an organization called Access Copyright, without consulting faculty, students or librarians. Access Copyright is an agent for owners of copyright, and is supposed to act on behalf of copyright holders if their rights are being infringed upon. Access Copyright claims that signing this agreement and paying this fee will protect the University from being liable to infringement of the Copyright Act. However, no university in Canada has ever been sued by Access Copyright for infringement of the Copyright Act. This is because of an exemption in the Act called “fair dealing”. Fair dealing allows for the use and reproduction of copyrighted work for educational or journalistic purposes, such as research and study. By charging students a blanket copyright fee, Access Copyright is taking millions of dollars from students on the premise that we are committing copyright infringement, when in fact the law protects us from doing so!
The Province of Alberta recently challenged the Access Copyright agreement’s legality in court. The outcome makes it obvious that the use of copyrighted materials for research and learning falls under the scope of fair dealing. The case found that copyrighted materials distributed in classrooms fall under s.29 of the Copyright Act of Canada, which allows for the fair dealing exemption on the grounds of research or private study.
Because of the provisions in Access Copyright’s agreement with the University of Toronto, each of us will be charged $26 for “protection” we already have. To make matters worse, just last year, students were paying $3.38 for the same unnecessary protection! Access Copyright is charging some institutions upwards of $41 per student, but whether we’re paying $26 or $41 is irrelevant. We should not be paying these fees at all! If the university is concerned with copyright infringement, they should pay for this ridiculous insurance policy through government grants or through the tuition fees we already pay. They should not be levying students an additional ancillary fee to cover the cost.
Study and research are what comprise most of our degrees, and to argue that post-secondary student study doesn’t fall under fair dealing is just another way of kicking us while we’re down. On top of paying the highest tuition fees in the country and astronomical ancillary fees, we are now required to pay insurance for the University in case somewhere along the line a non-University student reads a photocopied chapter of a book? That sounds pretty ridiculous to me, and I’m not the only one. The University of British Columbia, York, Waterloo and Queen’s are just a few of the institutions that have decided not to sign this agreement. I can only hope that the University of Toronto reconsiders its decision and does not renew the agreement in 2016 when it expires. Until then, students should challenge the university’s decision in any way they can.
Vice President University Affairs, University of Toronto Students’ Union