Canada: A Nationwide Coalition Demands a Copyright Fix

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Canada is an international embarrassment’: A vast consortium of English- and French-language copyright advocates take the fight to Parliament Hill’s new culture minister, Pascale St-Onge.

On Parliament Hill in Ottawa, at the Centennial Flame originally lit in 1967. Image – Getty iStockphoto: A&J Fotos

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

The Crisis ‘Makes Canada an Outlier Internationally’
The message in a major Canadian call to action on copyright today (August 3) is terse with the tension of a decade-long crisis: We have been patient. We have counted on the government. We are out of time and need urgent action.

Pascale St-Onge

More than 50,000 publishers, writers, and visual artists are represented by the 24 organizations, councils, associations, guilds, and federations sending a single demand to the minister of Canadian Heritage, the market’s cultural ministry, Pascale St-Onge: fix the 2012 Canadian Copyright Modernization Act that they say has been a CA$200 million disaster for the book business.

What the signatories to the message are demanding is that St-Onge engage with François-Philippe Champagne—the minister of innovation, science, and industry—”to end the standstill in fulfilling the government’s promise to fix Canada’s Copyright Act.”

Clearly, the timing is deliberate: St-Onge, the culture minister, has been in office exactly one week. And publishers are telling her not to get too comfortable in her new role until she works out what they say is a long unfulfilled promise that Ottawa will provide the relief the book business needs.

A former minister of sport and the oversight minister for the economic development agency for Quebec, St-Onge has lived since 2018 in that French-language part of Canada—which has had a much better experience with copyright revenues for education’s use of copyrighted material than have the English-language provinces, where at one point, whole education systems sued the collection agency, Access Copyright.

Ramadan: ‘End the Mass, Systemic, Free Copying’

When those behind this new statement say to the culture minister that her country’s copyright fiasco has made Canada “an outlier internationally,” they are correct. No other developed nation’s legislators in recent memory have seen such a profound rout of copyright protections as the 2013 implementation of the 2012 Modernization Act seems to have precipitated. Many Canadian educational interests have made copies of legally copyrighted content without paying the per-student fees established to provide revenues to the rights holders of those works.

“Canadian industry minister “François-Philippe Champagne holds the pen on copyright policy in Canada, and he appears to listen only to voices coming from the education sector.”Glenn Rollans, Association of Canadian Publishers

And as Publishing Perspectives readers know from our Rights Edition report last month, the Canadian copyright crisis has reached a critical stage at which the board of the 35-year-old Access Copyright has felt compelled to initiate “a significant downsizing and restructuring of the organization because of the federal government’s decade-long inaction in fixing Canada’s publishing marketplace.”

It’s largely unclear why the federal government in Canada hasn’t yet moved yet to address the weaknesses of the law that went into effect in 2013. Even after a painstaking, weeks-long series of parliamentary committee hearings in 2018—and protracted court battles—Canadian politicians simply have not appeared to care that their nation’s educational publishing industry was both withering without its government-approved revenues and being assailed by many educational leaders for asking that rights holders be paid for their copyrighted content.

The organizations that today have released this singular and strident statement include some French-language organizations as well as English-language bodies:

  • Access Copyright
  • Association of Book Publishers of BC (Books BC)
  • Association of Canadian Publishers
  • Association of Manitoba Book Publishers
  • Book Publishers Association of Alberta
  • Canadian Artists’ Representation (CARFAC)
  • Canadian Authors’ Association
  • Canadian Publishers’ Council
  • Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators, and Performers (CANSCAIP)
  • Coalition for the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, Copibec
  • Copyright Visual Artists – CARCC
  • League of Canadian Poets
  • Literary Press Group of Canada
  • Manitoba Writers’ Guild
  • News Media Canada
  • Playwrights Guild of Canada
  • Regroupement des artistes en arts visuels du Québec (RAAV)
  • Saskatchewan Writers Guild
  • SaskBooks
  • The Writers’ Union of Canada
  • Union des écrivaines et des écrivains québécois (UNEQ)
  • WritersNL
  • Writers Federation of New Brunswick
  • Writers’ Guild of Alberta
Degen: ‘Our Government Needs To Get This One Right’

Danny Ramadan, Writers’ Union of Canada

Speaking for this wide-ranging coalition of industry organizations, the Syrian-Canadian author Danny Ramadan, chair of the Writers’ Union of Canada, says, “As minister St-Onge takes the reins from minister Rodriguez, tackling meaningful copyright reform must be at the top of her list of priorities.

“The government needs to act urgently to end the mass, systemic, free copying of creators’ works by educational institutions outside of Quebec.”

Glenn Rollans

And publisher Glenn Rollans—known well to many in Publishing Perspectives‘ international professional readership as the spokesperson on copyright issues for the Association of Canadian Publishers, takes the fight directly to the industry ministry, saying, “Minister Champagne holds the pen on copyright policy in Canada, and he appears to listen only to voices coming from the education sector.

“After suffering more than a decade of systematic, unfair copying by schools and post-secondaries without permission or compensation, we’re counting on minister St-Onge to press minister Champagne to stand up for Canadian writers and publishers and represent our interests too.”

John Degen

And another internationally familiar voice, that of John Degen, the Writers’ Union’s CEO, is heard here: “Quite frankly, Canada is an international embarrassment on this issue.

“Our government needs to get this one right if we have any chance of addressing something like artificial intelligence, which, if left unchecked, will eviscerate whatever is left of Canada’s writing and publishing marketplace.”

More from today’s statement completes the message and the mission of those standing behind this plea to a very new minister of culture in one of the world’s most literate, wealthiest, and democratic nations:

“In April 2022, the federal government acknowledged that the Copyright Act had broken Canada’s publishing marketplace and committed to repairing it. Since then, the government has not taken the meaningful steps required to do so.

“Failure to act with a sense of urgency continues to negatively impact publishers, creators as well as organizations such as Access Copyright, a key piece of cultural infrastructure that Canadian creators and publishers rely on to be fairly compensated for the use of their work.

“Collectively and individually, the creative sector will continue to ask the government to do the right thing, especially as its continued inaction has brought immense harm to Canadian creators and makes Canada an outlier internationally.

There is a ready-made solution to address the devastating impact of education fair dealing. Canadian creators and publishers urge the federal government to act today so there will be Canadian stories tomorrow.”

More from Publishing Perspectives on the Canadian market is here, more from us on the Canadian Copyright Modernization Act of 2012, implemented in 2013, is here, more on other copyright issues in world publishing is here, and more on rights trading, its trends and issues, is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.