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UBC responds to complaints over fair dealing

The University of British Columbia has responded to complaints from The Writers’ Union of Canada that the university is failing to compensate writers and publishers for the use of their works in photocopied course packs.

The dispute stems from differing interpretations of fair dealing under the Copyright Act. TWUC’s position is that, in opting out of a collective licence offered by Access Copyright (which remits royalties to creators), UBC is in violation of existing regulations. The university does not agree.

In his response to an open letter from TWUC, UBC president and vice-chancellor Stephen J. Toope says the university is “committed to meeting its legal obligations” with respect to copyright, noting that it pays “in the neighbourhood of $25 million to publishers and authors every year” via library acquisitions, digital subscriptions, and book sales.

The letter also notes that UBC seeks “transactional licences” for materials that do not fall under fair dealing. Toope suggests that not all creators have been willing to play along:

It has come to our attention over the last year or two that some publishers and authors have decided not to grant any transactional clearances. This is unfortunate, as this restricts faculty and students from utilizing the materials produced by the affected publishers and authors and, it would seem, unnecessarily cuts-off a source of revenue for them.

This salvo will hardly be the last in the ongoing skirmish between post-secondary institutions and this country’s professional writers and publishers.