Crack the Coursepack

How does copyright regulate the movement of ideas in universities today? How much do we pay for acquiring knowledge, and to whom? What are alternatives to the coursepack, the traditional means of giving students course materials? This series of five comics explore these questions and more.
Why is this so complicated?
The way knowledge circulates in the education world is complicated — and here is only a simplified version of reality! This comic represents the traditional model of disseminating knowledge in post-secondary institutions. We chose to focus on McGill as an example of a Quebec university, but all Canadian universities operate within the same paradigm.
What’s Copibec? It seems to be at the center of this…
Copibec (like its Canadian equivalent Access Copyright) is an organization that sells educational institutions the right to make paper copies of copyrighted works — books, journal articles, news reports — in exchange for a variety of fees. Quebec universities band together and sign a single agreement with Copibec instead of concluding agreements with individual authors and publishers. Copibec, in principle, redistributes the millions of dollars it receives every year to authors and publishers. In reality, there are serious problems with this model: see for yourself.
How can we work within the traditional model while exploring alternatives to it? 
1. Reduce costs. Traditionally, professors give students course materials in coursepack form (rather than as individual handouts, web links, etc). Under the Copibec agreement, this can get expensive. Learn why, and learn how to avoid excessive costs.
2. Use alternative distribution methods. Publishers were great when the Internet wasn’t around. Today, better options exist. Universities around the world have created an exciting alternative that allows free access to a wealth of scholarly literature: open access repositories.
3. Understand and take advantage of copyright exceptions. Copyright is not a total prohibition against using copyrighted materials. People, especially in educational institutions, benefit from copyright exceptions. Copyright exceptions give certain people the right to use copyrighted materials for free. These are your rights: understand them.

Why is this so complicated?

The way knowledge circulates in the education world is complicated — and here is only a simplified version of reality! This comic represents the traditional model of disseminating knowledge in post-secondary institutions. We chose to focus on McGill as an example of a Quebec university, but all Canadian universities operate within the same paradigm.

What’s Copibec? It seems to be at the center of this…

Copibec (like its Canadian equivalent Access Copyright) is an organization that sells educational institutions the right to make paper copies of copyrighted works — books, journal articles, news reports — in exchange for a variety of fees. Quebec universities band together and sign a single agreement with Copibec instead of concluding agreements with individual authors and publishers. Copibec, in principle, redistributes the millions of dollars it receives every year to authors and publishers. In reality, there are serious problems with this model: see for yourself.

How can we work within the traditional model while exploring alternatives to it? 

1. Reduce costs. Traditionally, professors give students course materials in coursepack form (rather than as individual handouts, web links, etc). Under the Copibec agreement, this can get expensive. Learn why, and learn how to avoid excessive costs.

2. Use alternative distribution methods. Publishers were great when the Internet wasn’t around. Today, better options exist. Universities around the world have created an exciting alternative that allows free access to a wealth of scholarly literature: open access repositories.

3. Understand and take advantage of copyright exceptions. Copyright is not a total prohibition against using copyrighted materials. People, especially in educational institutions, benefit from copyright exceptions. Copyright exceptions give certain people the right to use copyrighted materials for free. These are your rights: understand them.

How is it that authors don’t get paid much if Copibec’s self-proclaimed raison d’être is to ensure that authors get rewarded for their ideas?
Copibec says that it “rescues” innovation by rewarding authors for their ideas (video). They reason that, unless they collect fees from you and I, and distribute these fees as payments to authors, the authors won’t get paid, and will give up on their craft. We disagree. First of all, professors rarely receive much by way of royalties from Copibec. Even if Copibec did pay authors their fair share - which they don’t - professors would still get paid to write by their employers, the universities. So Copibec really doesn’t stimulate much innovation.  
How will free access to copyrighted materials in educational institutions impact the knowledge economy?
People rarely create knowledge within a bubble. Ideas build upon each other over time. If all Canadians in all educational institutions had free access to scholarly materials, they would have more materials to work with, and may end up creating more themselves. 
Why should students care about the copyright fee?
Because students pay the fee. Quebec universities are renegotiating their agreement with Copibec, and the copyright fee could increase again - and contribute to rising education costs.
Students should question the legitimacy of copyright fee increases. For starters, the Copibec negotiations are highly secretive. Only university principals and head librarians speak with Copibec about this. Some experts think that the previous fee increases occurred because Copibec assumed that professors underreported the number of copies they made. Without hearing the negotiations surrounding fee increases, and without any real choice in the matter, why should students accept the prices they’re forced to pay? 
Making matters worse, when students buy coursepacks, they may have to pay an additional 10 cents per page as a penalty for their professors constructing coursepacks outside of the limits set by Copibec. Professors are often unaware of these limits. Adding insult to injury, students essentially pay twice for the same content. They pay Copibec for the right to print articles, but they also pay for access the same articles through subscriptions to online databases like HeinOnline.

How is it that authors don’t get paid much if Copibec’s self-proclaimed raison d’être is to ensure that authors get rewarded for their ideas?

Copibec says that it “rescues” innovation by rewarding authors for their ideas (video). They reason that, unless they collect fees from you and I, and distribute these fees as payments to authors, the authors won’t get paid, and will give up on their craft. We disagree. First of all, professors rarely receive much by way of royalties from Copibec. Even if Copibec did pay authors their fair share - which they don’t - professors would still get paid to write by their employers, the universities. So Copibec really doesn’t stimulate much innovation.  

How will free access to copyrighted materials in educational institutions impact the knowledge economy?

People rarely create knowledge within a bubble. Ideas build upon each other over time. If all Canadians in all educational institutions had free access to scholarly materials, they would have more materials to work with, and may end up creating more themselves. 

Why should students care about the copyright fee?

Because students pay the fee. Quebec universities are renegotiating their agreement with Copibec, and the copyright fee could increase again - and contribute to rising education costs.

Students should question the legitimacy of copyright fee increases. For starters, the Copibec negotiations are highly secretive. Only university principals and head librarians speak with Copibec about this. Some experts think that the previous fee increases occurred because Copibec assumed that professors underreported the number of copies they made. Without hearing the negotiations surrounding fee increases, and without any real choice in the matter, why should students accept the prices they’re forced to pay? 

Making matters worse, when students buy coursepacks, they may have to pay an additional 10 cents per page as a penalty for their professors constructing coursepacks outside of the limits set by Copibec. Professors are often unaware of these limits. Adding insult to injury, students essentially pay twice for the same content. They pay Copibec for the right to print articles, but they also pay for access the same articles through subscriptions to online databases like HeinOnline.

Can coursepacks be cheaper? Yes. Professors can minimize fees by constructing their cousepacks within the limits set out in section 3.2 of the Copibec agreement (in French). But if professors make coursepacks outside of these limits, prices shoot up at a rate of 10 cents for each page constructed outside of the rules. Here are the limits professors should observe in order to help keep coursepack costs down:
the lesser of 25 pages or 10% of a work; 
an entire article from a periodical; 
an entire book chapter provided it constitutes no more than 20% of the work.
Want more information? The McGill Bookstore has put together a coursepack guide for professors. Concordia has one too.
An extra 10 cents per page isn’t all that bad, right? Wrong. Why double the cost to students? The McGill Bookstore already charges 10 cents per page in printing fees. If professors construct their coursepacks outside of the limits, the price to students doubles to 20 cents per page. This gets expensive. Consider that a 300 page coursepack made within the limits costs students $90. If professors work outside of these limits, the price doubles to a cool $180. And that’s just for one coursepack. Some courses require two or more coursepacks. And most students take about 5 courses per term. Ouch.
Are there cheaper alternatives to the coursepack? Yes. Professors can post links to the course materials on an internal website such as WebCT. Students can then read the materials online for free, or print the materials themselves for less money than the bookstore would charge.

Can coursepacks be cheaper? Yes. Professors can minimize fees by constructing their cousepacks within the limits set out in section 3.2 of the Copibec agreement (in French). But if professors make coursepacks outside of these limits, prices shoot up at a rate of 10 cents for each page constructed outside of the rules. Here are the limits professors should observe in order to help keep coursepack costs down:

  1. the lesser of 25 pages or 10% of a work; 
  2. an entire article from a periodical; 
  3. an entire book chapter provided it constitutes no more than 20% of the work.

Want more information? The McGill Bookstore has put together a coursepack guide for professors. Concordia has one too.

An extra 10 cents per page isn’t all that bad, right? Wrong. Why double the cost to students? The McGill Bookstore already charges 10 cents per page in printing fees. If professors construct their coursepacks outside of the limits, the price to students doubles to 20 cents per page. This gets expensive. Consider that a 300 page coursepack made within the limits costs students $90. If professors work outside of these limits, the price doubles to a cool $180. And that’s just for one coursepack. Some courses require two or more coursepacks. And most students take about 5 courses per term. Ouch.

Are there cheaper alternatives to the coursepack? Yes. Professors can post links to the course materials on an internal website such as WebCT. Students can then read the materials online for free, or print the materials themselves for less money than the bookstore would charge.

What is eScholarship@McGill? It’s an online warehouse for storing and displaying literature authored by McGill professors and students. Whether you’re a professor at Oxford or a peasant in Portugal, anyone can access it from everywhere in the world.  And it’s free! 
Yeah – so what? eScholarship@McGill is part of the open access to scholarly literature movement. This lets everybody in on the scholarly action, so that more people read literature than before. The hope is that, in turn, more people will write literature than before.
I don’t get it. Okay, let’s back up a little bit. Traditionally, scholars would sell their literature to publishers, who would then sell the literature to readers. But the literature existed mostly in paper copy, and the fees were a deterrent, so not many people ended up reading the literature.
That’s nice of scholars to give up their pay. Yes, it’s very nice of scholars to share their literature with the world. But scholars don’t necessarily forgo their pay. Uploading their literature to open access websites doesn’t preclude them from selling it to publishers.
You said “open access websites” – there’s more than one? That is correct. eScholarship@McGill is but one of many open access websites. Most universities have open access websites nowadays — just google the university’s name together with “institutional repository”. Or visit www.OAIster.org, which is a database of open access sites.
What’s this got to do with copyright? Copyright limits people’s access to literature. Open access makes literature freely available.
What’s this got to do with coursepacks? If professors get their coursepack materials from open access sites rather than through Copibec, coursepack pricing could go way down.
What’s the McGill one again? Here: http://www.mcgill.ca/library/library-findinfo/escholarship.

What is eScholarship@McGill? It’s an online warehouse for storing and displaying literature authored by McGill professors and students. Whether you’re a professor at Oxford or a peasant in Portugal, anyone can access it from everywhere in the world.  And it’s free! 

Yeah – so what? eScholarship@McGill is part of the open access to scholarly literature movement. This lets everybody in on the scholarly action, so that more people read literature than before. The hope is that, in turn, more people will write literature than before.

I don’t get it. Okay, let’s back up a little bit. Traditionally, scholars would sell their literature to publishers, who would then sell the literature to readers. But the literature existed mostly in paper copy, and the fees were a deterrent, so not many people ended up reading the literature.

That’s nice of scholars to give up their pay. Yes, it’s very nice of scholars to share their literature with the world. But scholars don’t necessarily forgo their pay. Uploading their literature to open access websites doesn’t preclude them from selling it to publishers.

You said “open access websites” – there’s more than one? That is correct. eScholarship@McGill is but one of many open access websites. Most universities have open access websites nowadays — just google the university’s name together with “institutional repository”. Or visit www.OAIster.org, which is a database of open access sites.

What’s this got to do with copyright? Copyright limits people’s access to literature. Open access makes literature freely available.

What’s this got to do with coursepacks? If professors get their coursepack materials from open access sites rather than through Copibec, coursepack pricing could go way down.

What’s the McGill one again? Here: http://www.mcgill.ca/library/library-findinfo/escholarship.

What is “fair dealing”?
Fair dealing is an exception to the general rule against unauthorized use of copyrighted works. It allows one to make a copy for the purposes of private study or research, criticism or review, and news reporting (sections 29 to 29.2 of Copyright Act) — as long as one deals fairly with the material. What is fair depends on the circumstances: whether the use is commercial or not, how much of the work is copied, whether there is a negative effect on the work, etc. What’s certain is that fair dealing rights are user’s rights that should be protected, as the Supreme Court stated.
Are there any other exceptions to copyright?
Yes. In addition to fair dealing, the Copyright Act allows educational institutions and libraries to avoid copyright in specific cases. For instance, section 30.2(1) allows libraries to use copyrighted materials on behalf of others in the same way individuals would be allowed to use the materials themselves. This means librarians can copy an article and put it in a professor’s course reserve. Another exception: professors can project pages from a book through an overhead projector during lectures (section 29.4(1)).
If universities can use copyright exceptions to legally use protected works, why do they renew their agreement with Copibec?
Universities, like any big organization, are averse to risk. While the law provides strong exceptions for fair dealing and educational institutions, the legality of any single use is not certain until it is decided in court. Because universities want to avoid being sued at all costs, they prefer dealing with Copibec. The downside: cost is ultimately passed on to the students and the taxpayers.
It’s worth noting that section 30.3(2) of the Copyright Act currently requires universities to enter into agreements with a society that collectively administers copyright, like Copibec. But it doesn’t need to be Copibec: it could be an online database that offers more valuable access to a database of works.

What is “fair dealing”?

Fair dealing is an exception to the general rule against unauthorized use of copyrighted works. It allows one to make a copy for the purposes of private study or research, criticism or review, and news reporting (sections 29 to 29.2 of Copyright Act) — as long as one deals fairly with the material. What is fair depends on the circumstances: whether the use is commercial or not, how much of the work is copied, whether there is a negative effect on the work, etc. What’s certain is that fair dealing rights are user’s rights that should be protected, as the Supreme Court stated.

Are there any other exceptions to copyright?

Yes. In addition to fair dealing, the Copyright Act allows educational institutions and libraries to avoid copyright in specific cases. For instance, section 30.2(1) allows libraries to use copyrighted materials on behalf of others in the same way individuals would be allowed to use the materials themselves. This means librarians can copy an article and put it in a professor’s course reserve. Another exception: professors can project pages from a book through an overhead projector during lectures (section 29.4(1)).

If universities can use copyright exceptions to legally use protected works, why do they renew their agreement with Copibec?

Universities, like any big organization, are averse to risk. While the law provides strong exceptions for fair dealing and educational institutions, the legality of any single use is not certain until it is decided in court. Because universities want to avoid being sued at all costs, they prefer dealing with Copibec. The downside: cost is ultimately passed on to the students and the taxpayers.

It’s worth noting that section 30.3(2) of the Copyright Act currently requires universities to enter into agreements with a society that collectively administers copyright, like Copibec. But it doesn’t need to be Copibec: it could be an online database that offers more valuable access to a database of works.