Canadian authors respond to unprecedented legal attack from provincial Education Ministers and School Boards

The Writers' Union of Canada
Press Release

The Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC) calls on those provincial ministries and school boards engaged in legal action against The Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency (Access Copyright) to immediately withdraw their suit and pay fair compensation for the hundreds of millions of pages of creative content copied in Canada’s schools. The Writers' Union is a founding member of Access Copyright, which distributes copyright royalties to Canadian authors and publishers.

“This is an outrageous attack on Canada’s writers,” said TWUC Chair Marjorie Doyle. “Authors in this country provide extraordinary value to education, and only ask to be fairly paid for their work. The Copyright Board has set a price for educational use of our work, and we feel this lawsuit from educational budget-makers is nothing more than their latest attempt to avoid legally determined costs.”

Ministries of education (outside of Quebec) and Ontario school boards have claimed since 2013 they are exempt from paying the copyright fees certified by the Copyright Board. There is no legal basis for this assertion. In fact, a recent Federal Court decision against York University tested and discarded similar educational claims of free copying. The conflict over copying was heightened when most provincial ministries of education and all Ontario school boards jointly filed suit in Federal Court this week claiming overpayment of copyright fees. The ministries and boards are demanding a refund of approximately $25 million, despite years of unlicensed copying in Canada’s classrooms.

"Given its weak legal footing,” said John Degen, TWUC’s executive director, “this lawsuit amounts to scare tactics and intimidation. It has no hope of success. Provincial politicians simply want to drag this issue through the courts, hoping that legal expenses will cripple writers and publishers, forcing a settlement. They are ignoring the Copyright Board, and trying to cut costs at the expense of fair pay to Canadian writers."

"It's a cynical tactic,” said Doyle. “To be absolutely clear, The Writers' Union of Canada supports Access Copyright, and will help fight this lawsuit to the end. The Federal Court has already sided with Canadian authors, and provided strong direction for licensed copying in schools. We will not be intimidated away from fair pay for our work."

After a poorly defined change to the federal Copyright Act in 2012, many Canadian schools and post-secondary institutions adopted radically expanded copying practices, abandoning a long-established licensing structure that saw writers and publishers compensated for the use of their work. This development has cost Canada’s creative professionals tens of millions of dollars per year since 2012. TWUC reiterates its call for a meaningful and substantial repair of the Copyright Act as Parliament reviews it this year.

The Writers’ Union administers and supports programs across the country that pay authors to present their work to teachers and students. The educational impact of this programming is vital for Canada’s students, and the Union intends to continue that work despite this legal action. 

“We’ve been advocating for decades for higher Canadian content in the books and materials being used in Canadian schools,” said Degen. “There are no minimum standards, and Canadian kids can graduate high school without ever reading a Canadian author. This is an appalling state of affairs, and this irresponsible lawsuit will only make it worse.”

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The Writers’ Union of Canada is our country’s national organization representing more than 2,000 professional authors of books. The Union is dedicated to fostering writing in Canada, and promoting the rights, freedoms, and economic well-being of all writers.

For additional information:
John Degen, Executive Director
The Writers' Union of Canada
416.703.8982 Ext. 221

DATE: February 23, 2018