Small tuition drop could mean costlier course readers

Ryerson's Access Copyright license expired on Dec. 31, 2015. (Olivia McLeod/Ryersonian Staff)

Ryerson’s Access Copyright license expired on Dec. 31, 2015. (Olivia McLeod/Ryersonian Staff)

The expiry of Ryerson’s copyright license means students will save $26 each on their tuition but it also means they could pay more for their course readings.

Changes to Canadian copyright law in 2012 allow materials to be printed for educational purposes. This is called fair dealing. Prior to this, universities sought copyright licenses from a company called Access Copyright, which negotiated with publishers to allow distribution. With fair dealing, many of the services Ryerson paid for with this copyright license are rights students now have under this legislation.

Ryerson’s copyright license expired Dec. 31, 2015.

Anne Ludbrook, a copyright and scholarly engagement specialist with Ryerson’s library, said in an email response that the $26 fee for the license has been credited back to students.

She said that Ryerson’s fair dealing policies state that professors can share 10 per cent (or one chapter) of a document.

“Course collections that exceed 10 per cent or one chapter of a work need additional permissions clearances,” she said.

Now, the onus is on professors of the university to be mindful of fair dealing.

Neil Thomlinson, a professor in the faculty of politics and public administration said that he received an email from the library at the beginning of the semester saying that some of his course readings were not in compliance with the school’s fair dealing guidelines.

“I was able to scrounge alternate readings and keep it all online,” Thomlinson said.

He was able to get around this issue without costing his students money for the resources.  Instead of printing three chapters from one book, he found a similar chapter from a different one.

In cases where material does not comply with policy and alternatives are not available, the university has to purchase copyright permission from publishers directly.

Ludbrook says this is done by the third-party vendor that produces the course packs and the cost then trickles down to the students purchasing them.

Thomlinson said that there should be a policy in place for material to be bought by students online for a reasonable fee.

“I think (the library) is doing the best they can with what they have to work with,” he said.

As for Access Copyright, they assert that they are still necessary for institutions because there are many materials not covered under fair dealing.

Many schools disagree and have opted to let their licenses lapse because the agreements are costly in comparison to the benefits they provide.

“It’s a lot of money for something that gives you negative benefit,” said Ariel Katz, a professor with the University of Toronto’s faculty of law, adding that Access Copyright also required very detailed record-keeping of material.

“It’s extremely intrusive to comply with that,” Katz said. 

The Canadian Federation of Students Ontario wrote in 2013 that, “over time, the academic community began to question Access Copyright’s practices, including its administrative requirements, surveillance and perceived aggressive behaviour toward institutions.”

Katz said that the license was convenient for schools because there was a certain level of protection under the agreement. Of course, there were plenty of breaches in fair dealing while the university was licensed, but there was less fear of repercussions.

“It was very much a don’t ask don’t tell situation,” Katz said.

He said the new system will encourage more accountability and awareness about copyrighting.

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