Break-Ups Are Never Easy: York University Declines to Renew Blanket Copy Licence With Access Copyright

Break-Ups Are Never Easy: York University Declines to Renew Blanket Copy Licence With Access Copyright

Kalen Lumsden is a JD candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School

York University, including Osgoode Hall Law School, has decided to opt-out of the interim copy tariff from Access Copyright, the copyright collective that manages permissions associated with photocopying and course kits. The current licence will end on August 31, 2011.

York University joins a growing number of universities ending their blanket licences in favour of transactional licences, open sourced materials and a reliance on fair dealing copying exceptions. According to the universities, this approach will result in cost savings, especially since Access Copyright has proposed to raise the price for a blanket licence to $45 per student.

Copyright and You is a website launched by York University to help manage the upcoming transition. It contains information on fair dealing guidelines and how to ascertain what is available for classroom use and how to arrange for the necessary individual permissions.

York University’s copyright officer Patricia Lynch attributes the shift, in part, to changes in how educational institutions use technology:

The changing landscape in technology has led to an increase of licensed electronic resources in the York University Libraries. There are also materials available through Open Access, Creative Commons, fair dealing and transactional licences. These changes mean that Access Copyright’s proposed licence became less relevant to teaching and research in a post secondary environment.


In response to universities’ assertions that they can save money through opting out, Access Copyright released a press statement titled Why the Transactional Model for Secondary Uses is Unsuited to the New, Digital Economy in which they state:

Transactional licences for secondary uses of works are often not suited to the demands of the new digital economy. Impractical to implement and costly to administer, they have the added weakness of being unable to capture uses that should be compensated. They do not ensure that all secondary uses are legal, on the contrary, their very impracticality is an incentive to infringe.

Michael Geist points out that “[i]ronically Access Copyright is resisting pay-per-use licences for education, leaving some schools to license the same materials from the U.S. Copyright Clearance Center.”

Ultimately, the final result of the shifting relationship between the universities and Access Copyright will be influenced heavily by market forces. Access Copyright sells licences and the consumption patterns of their biggest clients are shifting. The problem faced by Access Copyright and publishers is not dissimilar to that faced by music collectives and record companies – how do you compete with what's practically free? The prospect of transactional licences is like going from selling albums to single tracks on iTunes.

It will be an interesting school year to see if the momentum of universities opting out of the old photocopying tariff results in shifts from being a reaction to technological change into what gives the technologies the final push it needs to enter the mainstream. This could be a huge boon for open source educational projects and Creative Commons licences. Also, anything that saves students money undoubtedly will receive student support.