Photo: Avner Levin courtesy of Avner Levin

Copyright software breaches privacy

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With two Ontario Universities fresh off the heels of enrolling with a controversial licensing company, Diana Hall reports on whether or not Ryerson will follow and sign on with Access Copyright

The University of Western Ontario and the University of Toronto have entered a controversial copyright agreement with licensing giant Access Copyright, raising concerns about the future of Ryerson’s own policies.

The agreement, which was finalized last month, included: provisions increasing per-student licensing fees to $27.50, defining hyperlinking as a method of photocopying, and a mandate to track and monitor student-faculty email for linked copyrighted material. It’s a modified version of the Canadian copyright license provider’s push for revenue in an online educational environment.

“Access copyright is trying to increase the tariff from $3.38 to $45 per (full-time) student,” said Julia Shin Doi, General Counsel of the Ryerson Board of Governors. “The copyright landscape is changing with all the digital access of materials, so Access Copyright is probably looking at its own business model to see how they can continue to make money off of copy.”

The agency protects its authors and publishers while creating partnerships with universities for legal access to written material, meaning that universities can photocopy copyright-protected material to redistribute to students and faculty.

Ryerson University has instead opted for the Interim Agreement with Access Copyright, as well as the Ryerson Fair Dealing Policy (which gives students and faculty members leeway to use copyrighted material for educational purposes). Students are paying approximately $17 each under the current arrangement.

Roxanne Dubois, National Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), said that the CFS was betrayed by the agreements signed by Western and the University of Toronto on Jan 30. She argued that the licensing agency’s provisions invade student privacy and educational well-being.

“[Access Copyright] is basically just charging students extra money and restricting access to works that we need to have access to as students,” Dubois said.

The CFS and the Canadian Association of University Teachers filed a joint objection in 2010 against the copyright provision overhaul, calling the increased cost for students “excessive,” and the Canadian license provider’s provisions of monitoring student and faculty emails as an “unreasonable burden.”

Avner Levin, chair of the law & business department at the Ted Rogers School of Management, agreed that Access Copyright’s proposal is a “heavy-handed tool” that infringes not only on privacy, but on independence and academic freedoms.

“I understand what they’re trying to do, they’re trying to get the best deal for their members, [but] I think universities should be out looking for students,” Levin said. “I don’t think universities should be worried about Access Copyright and their interests, they should be out to protect the students.”

This could all change, as universities, publishers and distributors wait for Bill C-11 (the Copyright Modernization Act) to set the record straight about the definition of ‘copy’ and what are considered publicly available documents online.

Levin said Ryerson should sit back and wait to see what the legislation reveals before entering into Access Copyright’s dictatorial “agenda.”

“I think the reality is that a lot of the material today, like in my classes, is what I would consider publicly available sources that are available online – and you don’t want people to start second guessing,” said Levin.


  1. The Eyeopener’s article on the licence agreement that Access Copyright entered into with the University of Toronto and Western University contains several misleading claims.

    The allegation that the agreement will see Access Copyright spy on faculty and student emails is unfounded. The agreement in no way requires the monitoring of emails. The agreement is particularly sensitive to the privacy rights of students and faculty, which the universities and Access Copyright take very seriously. The manner of how Access Copyright will get data on works used in a digital environment will be developed in partnership with U of T and Western. The intent is to identify, on a sample basis, works being copied so that the agreed rate remains appropriate for the future and royalties can be paid to the properly identified creators and publishers. This will be done, “in a manner that is automated, anonymous, and protective of the privacy of students and the academic freedom of faculty.”

    Linking is mentioned in the agreement only because it is a means to access a work in order to copy it. The act of hyperlinking is relevant to the licence only when the hyperlink leads to a digital or paper copy being made of a copyright protected work by professors and students. At the end of the day, copying is what is being paid for, not hyperlinking.

    As well, the assertion that the $27.50 rate in the new agreement represents an excessive fee increase is not accurate. Previously, students had to pay anything from $3.38 to over $200 per year in royalties. This included a flat fee plus $0.10 cents per page when protected works were included in coursepacks. The agreement we reached with U of T and Western blends the flat fee and the per page fee into one single fee of $27.50. Students will no longer pay the per page fee each time they buy a coursepack. This new rate also includes the ever increasing digital uses of works which the old agreement did not cover.

    Maureen Cavan
    Executive Director
    Access Copyright, The Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency

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