The members of the International Authors Forum (IAF) – 57 organisations representing over 600,000 individual creators worldwide – have written to Government Ministers in Canada.
They ask them to take action to undo the damage done to Canadian authors by a change to Canada’s copyright law in 2012. IAF’s solidarity with Canadian authors has become necessary due to the disastrous consequences of weakening authors’ rights which has seen the Canadian writing and publishing sector lose 30 million Canadian Dollars in royalty income.
The letter sent to Canadian ministers by IAF points to the harm to authors’ working conditions, in particular their pay, drawing attention to the concerns raised internationally – including at the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), which regulates the international copyright framework. It explains the importance of the licensing systems that have been all but abandoned in Canada, which pay authors for their contributions to society, keeping authors creating and costs to education low.
John Degen, poet, novelist, IAF’s Chair and Executive Director of The Writers’ Union of Canada, commented on the situation:
“Canada’s support for arts and culture professionals used to be the envy of the world. Now, when I speak internationally about my country’s creator rights climate, I’m met with shock and disbelief. Our reputation as a progressive nation on culture has taken a big hit, and we’re scaring away serious investment. It’s vitally important our new government hears the united concern of authors around the globe, so they can fix the damage.”
The Copyright Modernization Act, which brought the change in the law into effect, saw the word ‘education’ added to the ‘fair dealing’ provisions in the Copyright Act of Canada. This was interpreted by the Canadian education sector to mean that, when used in an educational context, it was ok to use authors’ work without applying the rules of copyright (i.e. the need to ask for permission from the author and right for the author to receive payment). As a consequence, schools and universities were quick to abandon their copyright license agreements, used to compensate authors for the use of their work in schools and universities, depriving authors and other rightsholders of a valuable source of income.
The latest alarming development is the decision of the Canadian Copyright Board in March 2016 to cut the tariffs charged for photocopying in K-12 schools severely, under the premise that the majority of copying now counts as ‘fair dealing’, rather than being protected by copyright. This is yet another overly broad interpretation of the law set to erode authors’ incomes further.
However, a broad cultural policy review has just been announced in Canada, the stated goals of which are “to foster the creation of Canadian content across the country, but also increase the international audience for Canadian creators”. This will be an opportunity to further highlight the negative effects of the copyright changes to the Canadian Government. IAF and its members hope the Government is willing to listen to creators’ perspective and work towards improving the situation; they will do everything they can to encourage this outcome and continue to support their fellow creators.