Copyright: Canadian Publishing Calls Out Ottawa’s Inaction

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Seeing no follow-through on the Canadian government’s promise to review the Copyright Modernization Act, a coalition asks for a meeting.

At Parliament Hill in Ottawa, the Peace Tower behind the flag on September 19. Image – Getty iStockphoto: James Wagner

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

‘Canadian Publishers Will Simply Have Disappeared’
A bilingual coalition of Canadian publishing and associated organizations, including Access Copyright, today (November 30), is calling on Heritage minister Pascale St-Onge and innovation, science, and industry minister François-Philippe Champagne to meet with them urgently on the need to finally follow through on the government’s promise in the 2022 federal budget to ensure “that the Copyright Act protects all creators and copyright holders.”

More than a decade after the 2012 June royal assent and November implementation of that act, the idea of these associations working together to approach the government, of course sounds logical. It may also sound familiar.

As Publishing Perspectives readers will recall, in August a larger roster of organizations, councils, associations, guilds, and federations—representing more than 50,000 publishers, writers, and visual artists—sent a single demand to St-Onge: fix the 2012 Canadian “Copyright Modernization Act,” which they say has been a CA$200 million disaster for the book business ($US147.3 million).

Pascale St-Onge

The apparent silence from the Canadian government now has been accentuated by what Access Copyright reports was a “tabling last week in the House of Commons of a report by the Standing Committee on Science and Research on Support for the Commercialization of Intellectual Property that recommended, among other things, ‘That the government of Canada undertake a review of the Copyright Act in order to study appropriate remuneration for Canadian content creators, particularly as it relates to educational material.'”

As a joint statement from the book industry’s organizations involved today puts it:

Called to testify last spring as part of the study by the Standing Committee on Science and Research, Gilles Herman (Éditions du Septentrion), then vice-president of [Québec’s copyright collection agency] Copibec, rightly pointed out that in 2012, the legislature added several exceptions to the Copyright Act allowing circumvention of intellectual property, including introducing the concept of fair dealing for educational purposes, without specifying its scope of application.

“Since then, most Canadian educational institutions have disengaged from the collective licensing regime they had previously adhered to, resulting in financial losses of approximately $200 million in 10 years, directly attributable to this legislative gap. ‘If the Canadian government does not correct the copyright law, the risk is that the education sector of the future will no longer teach Canadian content because Canadian publishers will have simply disappeared,’ he affirmed.

“This observation echoes the report from the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage entitled Shifting Paradigms which, as early as 2019, stated that the government should amend the law to specify that fair dealing provisions do not apply to educational institutions if the work is accessible on the market.”

Another hopeful point for the Canadian pro-copyright movement in April 2022 was found in the federal budget’s language, which included a commitment “to ensure fair compensation for creators and copyright holders as part of a sustainable educational publishing marketplace.” Now, that, too, seems to have atrophied, apparently without there having been any intentionality behind it.

The political will to look at what made the 2012 Copyright Modernization Act go so terribly wrong simply hasn’t materialized.

The question now is whether St-Onge and Champagne are willing to allow something so far from the norm in any advanced society today to finish trashing Canada’s own educational publishing industry—which once was such a point of cultural pride in the Americas and far beyond.

‘To Protect All Creators and Copyright Holders’

Almost any national market in worldwide book publishing might point to times at which its government may have turned a deaf ear to issues faced by publishing professionals and so many others in the copyright arena, especially in an age of digital access to content. As we know, that’s now most alarmingly highlighted for many in the book business with the rise of artificial intelligence systems which feed on copyrighted material without permission or compensation for their language “training.”

A publishing coalition wants Heritage minister Pascale St-Onge to follow through on the Canadian government’s promise in the 2022 federal budget to ensure “that the Copyright Act protects all creators and copyright holders.”

Nevertheless, what stands as perhaps the hardest element of this to understand for many international publishing professionals is how there could be so vehement a resistance to respecting copyrighted content, its authors, and publishers, in so admired a national culture as that of Canada with such a sophisticated educational complex in a case that now has passed the 10-year mark.

A changing cast of political characters across national elections, of course, complicates this kind of issue in many nations. But it’s hard to grasp the fact that this situation has been in play for a decade without yet being understood by Ottawa as the international embarrassment it is.

This time, the leadership making the appeal to the government of Justin Trudeau comprises:

  • Access Copyright
  • The Association nationale des éditeurs de livres (ANEL)
  • The Association of Canadian Publishers (ACP)
  • The Canadian Authors Association (CAA),
  • The Canadian Publishers’ Council (CPC)
  • Copibec
  • The Literary Press Group of Canada (LPG)
  • The Regroupement des éditeurs franco-canadiens (REFC)
  • Union des écrivaines et des écrivains québécois (UNEQ)
  • The Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC)

Roanie Levy

In late October, it was reported that Access Copyright’s president and CEO Roanie Levy was leaving, during a period of restructuring. That, as Publishing Perspectives readers know from our Rights Edition report in July, was precipitated as the 35-year-old Access Copyright’s board 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.”

Levy is in place until the end of December, while the organization has moved to a new location, also as part of the restructuring effort.

And 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 is 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.

Related article: Canada: A Nationwide Coalition Demands a Copyright Fix. Image – Getty iStockphoto: A&J Fotos

It will be interesting to see if Champagne and St-Onge—the latter with a background that includes a stint as the minister responsible for the Canadian Economic Development Agency for Quebec—will see the crucial need for attention, at last, to this remarkable abandonment of some of the world’s most widely upheld copyright protections, especially with there having been no reported reaction in August to the appeal made then.

“It’s high time to close the gaps in the law,” says the statement from today’s coalition, “and protect the future of Canadian literature.”

The precise demand from the coalition is that “all elected officials take action so that these fundamental recommendations in favor of Canadian education and literature soon materialize in the law.”

A Programming Note: London Book Fair

At London Book Fair, March 12 to 14, Glenn Rollans, a former president of the Association of Canadian Publishers (ACP) and president and publisher of Brush Education, will join us when Publishing Perspectives moderates a Main Stage discussion, Copyright and AI: A Global Discussion of Machines, Humans, and the Law, an advanced-level conversation exploring the risks and opportunities within the rapidly evolving ecosystem in an era of artificial intelligence.

Glenn Rollans

The session will also feature:

  • Sylvie Forbin, deputy director general, World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)
  • Maria A. Pallante, president and CEO, Association of American Publishers (AAP)
  • Nicola Solomon, CEO, Society of Authors (SoA)

That’s set for 2:15 to 3 p.m. on the Main Stage on London Book Fair’s opening day, March 12.


More from Publishing Perspectives on the Canadian market is here, more from us on the Canadian Copyright Modernization Act of 2012, 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.com, 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.