NLLA disappointed that MUN intends to sign costly copyright agreement

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On May 15, 2012, Memorial University’s Vice-Presidents’ Council approved signing a letter of intent to accept a model licence negotiated between the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) and Access Copyright (AC), the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency. Although this decision is non-binding, the fact that Memorial University is even considering accepting a deal that, as it is currently worded, has restrictions that seriously impact research, teaching and learning and will cost an estimated $400,000 per year, is of great concern.

Memorial University had opted out of licensing agreements with AC, along with over 30 other Canadian universities and colleges, due to AC’s proposed post-secondary tariff. The tariff represented a significant increase in per-student fees, the introduction of what many consider to be intrusive and impractical monitoring requirements, and the assigning of rights to AC that do not exist under Canadian law.

The AUCC had been representing Memorial University and other Canadian Universities and Colleges in the Copyright Board post-secondary tariff hearing, arguing against the tariff, but recently withdrew from the hearing after negotiating a model license agreement with AC. The NLLA had previously released a statement reviewing the model license and strongly advising universities and colleges not to sign it.

While some universities have publicly stated similar intentions to sign the AC licence agreement, others such as the University of British Columbia, Athabasca University, the University of Windsor, and the University of Winnipeg have all decided against it. UBC’s May 15 statement released by David H. Farrar, Provost and Vice President Academic (Vancouver) and Doug Owram, Deputy Vice Chancellor and Principal (Okanagan) states “We believe we are taking the bolder, more principled and sustainable option, which best serves the fundamental and long-term interests of our academic community.”

In the statement released by Memorial, Dr. David Wardlaw, provost and vice-president (academic) says “Signing this letter of intent allows us to undertake further consultations, to seek clarification of details of some of the terms in the model licence and to compare thoroughly the benefits and costs of signing versus not signing the new licence.” The NLLA sincerely hopes that the university does not sign the agreement with its current wording intact, and that the “clarification of details” will involve negotiations on some of the questionable and controversial terms that will have long-term consequences for the future of access to online information in Canada.

Memorial University’s statement also refers to “certain retroactive discounts offered on the new licence.” The NLLA does not see an annual $26.00 per full-time student fee as an incentive, nor could it be described as a “discount” when it represents a roughly 800% increase from what Memorial University was previously paying. This month, after the province’s budget was released, the University announced that it needs to find almost $4 million in savings. The NLLA questions how the University can concede to paying the exorbitant fees being demanded by AC, especially since much of what they will be paying for is already permitted for free.

The deadline to actually sign the AC licence agreement is June 30, 2012. This gives Memorial University time to re-consider its intentions of signing and the NLLA urges they do so.

UPDATE (June 18, 2012): Since this post, 4 more universities have decided not to sign the letter of intent: York University, University of New Brunswick, University of Waterloo, and Mount Royal University, bringing the total number to 8.

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