Copyright

What is the issue?

In the last decade, authors’ incomes in Canada have been severely damaged by changes to copyright law that negatively impact their ability to be paid fairly for the use of their work.

Copyright is the backbone of any agreement an author makes concerning their work and it is integral to an author’s ability to derive income from their writing. Canada’s Copyright Act confers on authors “the sole right to produce or reproduce the work or any substantial part thereof in any material form whatever…”. What this means for an author is a time-limited, exclusive right to their work, and it is up to them what happens to that work, both commercially and, in many instances, outside a commercial context. 

When an author signs a contract with a publisher to publish a book, they are (ideally) agreeing to grant the publisher a license to publish based on their exclusive right to the work. When an agent or publisher negotiates a foreign rights sale, those rights belong to the author as part of the exclusive right under the Act. (Of course, agents and publishers also benefit from these rights sales, but only according to terms negotiated with the original rights holder.) When a corporation, government, school, college, or university wishes to make copies of parts of a published work for use in their own work, those copies must be authorized by the rights holder, and a fair price negotiated for that copying.

While different countries have their own interpretations of copyright law, for the most part they all agree on the points above. The author is the primary rights holder in a work, and all those who wish to use the work must enter into negotiation with the author. Various exceptions to this exclusive right exist, and cover different instances of use and minor copying, but a general rule of thumb around the world is that an exception should not unduly disrupt or impact a functioning market for the author’s work.

In 2012, Canada’s federal government passed the Copyright Modernization Act, an amendment to the existing Copyright Act that introduced poorly defined and very disruptive new exceptions to the law. As soon as the 2012 amendments were passed, educational administrations across the country refused further collective licensing for the hundreds of millions of pages of copying they do each year. Instead, they published guidelines claiming these huge amounts of copied work as “fair dealing,” despite any regulatory authority to do so.

Since 2012, Canada’s authors have seen their annual royalty payments from Access Copyright (Canada’s copyright licensing collective) collapse, and the collective itself is in danger of depleting its budget entirely. A 2018 TWUC survey revealed that authors in Canada experienced a 27% income decline in the previous three years alone due, we believe, in large part to disappearing educational copying royalties. Those losses are even greater today.

What TWUC is doing

TWUC has joined with our partners in the sector to lobby successive governments for change to the law that would restore the rights of authors. 

We have gathered a great deal of evidence of damage caused by the 2012 amendments. The trends are undeniable — educational copying without payment has caused an income crisis in Canadian culture.

TWUC has successfully participated as witness, supporter, and/or intervenor in court challenges against both York University and Université Laval. We publicly revealed outright piracy at Concordia University in Montreal, and forced the school to pull back from their copying. With the dismissal of York’s copying guidelines in a Federal Court decision, and the settling of the Laval case in writers’ favour, TWUC reasonably expected schools would return to the negotiating table to set a new licence. Instead, York appealed its loss, that case looks to be heading to the Supreme Court of Canada, and the rest of the education sector continues to advise copying practices similar to those thrown out by the courts. 

TWUC fully participated in the federal government’s 2018-19 review of the Copyright Act, testifying before two Parliamentary committees and in the Senate. We support the review findings and recommendations of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage in their report Shifting Paradigms, which advise an immediate repair to the educational market for Canada’s authors.

Throughout 2018-19 and 2019-20, TWUC participated in high-level mediated discussions between the education and writing and publishing sectors.

TWUC filed (with the Association of Canadian Publishers and the Canadian Publishers Council) a joint legal intervention to the Federal Court of Appeal in support of Access Copyright. Recently, TWUC filed an affidavit at the Supreme Court of Canada in support of the copyright collectives request for leave to appeal. The Union is determined to see this fight through to the end.

In 2019-20, TWUC met with the Prime Minister’s Office, various Senators, policy staff at both the Heritage and Industry ministries, the Canada Book Fund, the Canada Council for the Arts, various Members of Parliament, the Parliamentary Secretary for Heritage, and the Minister of Canadian Heritage. In early 2020, just before lockdown, we helped to plan and deliver a presentation on Canadian copyright at the Economic Club of Canada.

In TWUC’s 2020-21 Pre-Budget submission to the federal government, we included this recommendation:

That the government immediately amend the Copyright Act in order to repair the damage to the cultural economy from unregulated educational copying of published works.

Since 2014, TWUC has chaired the International Authors Forum (IAF) in the UK. The IAF is an umbrella organization of creator groups, representing over 700,000 professional writers across the globe. Through its work with the IAF, TWUC has presented on Canadian copyright issues at the European Parliament in Brussels, the World Intellectual Property Organization in Geneva, and at many other meetings around the world. There are a number of copyright advocacy resources on their site.

What you can do

Please consider writing to your Member of Parliament in support of TWUC’s recommendation to the Finance Committee. You may wish to refer to the Standing Committee on Heritage’s Shifting Paradigms report, which supports our position.

Further reading


TWUC’s advocacy is most effective as the collective voice of Canada’s professional authors. We are stronger together. If you are not already a member of TWUC and are working as a writer, consider joining the Union. If you wish to support TWUC’s advocacy outside of membership, consider donating to the Union