Fair Use for Libraries and Schools

Michael Geist Blogged about Writers’ Union of Canada: Flexible Fair Dealing Legalizes Theft and the comments were a novel in themselves. I of course added my two cents, which actually was enough for my own post, so here it is!

Schools and Libraries should not have to pay copyright collectives for copying at all…

Authors and publishers used to love it when libraries or schools bought copies of their books. These are big markets, but even better, they provide guaranteed exposure. This kind of exposure creates what we call “branding”.

So I think it is obscene that our schools are forced to hand vast sums of money to copyright collectives for “blanket” copying rights. These “royalty” payments are not based on actual use, they are calculated per head. This is ridiculous. How then do these collectives figure out which writers get paid? Pulling numbers out of thin air? If the royalty was per book — the way that it used to be — the correct people would get actual payments reflecting how much was actually sold. When a school buys a book… the book is bought for everyone in the school – when anyone in the school uses it it should fall under personal use. That should clearly make a teacher photocopying an article for their students a fair use.

The schools pay piles of money to the collectives. Yet no one has the slightest clue to what was copied, least of all the collectives. (Guess somebody has to pay the salaries of the copyright collective staffers. I’d be very interested in knowing how much money copyright collective employees earn from administration of “royalties”. Wanna lay odds that the lowest paid Writers’ Union or Access Copyright staffer makes more than the average author?)

No wonder writers can’t make a living.

I remember reading about how magazine writers in the 1920’s made only a few cents a word. In the seventies they were still making almost the same rate of pay, although the cost of the magazines and books had risen astronomically. But it was so expensive to manufacture books… the cost of reproduction was so great, naturally the writers were the ones to take it on the chin, suck it up and make do with whatever pittance the publisher would allow. Now that there are ebooks — which cost virtually nil to produce — writers are still being paid only a tiny fraction of the cover price. Writers need to be paid more, no question, but not at the expense of our kids. Publishers and copyright collectives need to enter the 21st century.

Any educational materials purchased by schools should entitle the schools to use them any way they choose. As a parent I am furious to hear that students are compelled to use certain materials even though they are not necessarily the best materials — because they have been paid for. Schools are not rich… scratch the surface of any public school and you’ll find high school students routinely using texts older than they are. Not necessarily a bad thing for history class, say, but for programming? Not acceptable.

Broad fair use for education is essential if we want our culture to thrive.


2 thoughts on “Fair Use for Libraries and Schools

  1. I’ve only really become aware of the copyright issue since last summer’s copycon, and as a result I’ve only been reading Mssrs. Geist & Knopf for a matter of months.

    And the sad thing is that there is so much bad stuff going on (contributed to, no doubt, by folks like me not having enough time to keep an eye on the bigger picture, thus allowing it to happen) that I still am not as up to speed as I should be still. Reading HK’s back numbers are high on my list.

    Actually, if sleep hadn’t won out I’d have trundled over to Howard’s last night to see if he has anything to say about this as well as the newly leaked “consolidated ACTA” document.

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