SGPS, Open Letter on Access Copyright (22 May 2012)

Open Letter to Provost Alan Harrison from Queen’s Society of Graduate & Professional Students (SGPS); copied to Senators email list, 22 May 2012:

Dear Provost Harrison,

On behalf of the Council of the Society of Graduate and Professional students, we write to you to today to make known our opposition to Queen’s signing on to the model license agreement negotiated between Access Copyright (AC) and the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC). While we recognize that this is a difficult decision with many ramifications, we believe that the Queen’s community would be better served outside the agreement.

Numerous individuals and organizations have already identified concerns with the agreement. The Manitoba Library Association, for example, highlights that the definition of “Copy” in the agreement claims that links to copyrighted material constitute copies, though this is not the case in Canadian law. We would therefore be paying for a right that we already have. The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) also establishes that section 4(c) of the agreement prevents the storage of articles for personal research, which is a particular concern for graduate students, as we use copyrighted material outside of coursework, and have articles that are not included in coursepacks.

This new agreement has significant improvements with regards to digital rights in comparison with previous versions, but concerns still remain. For instance, according to CAUT, sections 5 (a) and (b) of the agreement restricts copying to networks secured by the University. Simply saving articles to (among other media) common cloud data services like Dropbox and iCloud would therefore be in breach of this agreement. Services like those are increasingly part of our academic life, and as Queen’s considers moving more and more of its activities online, their usage is likely to only increase. While clause 20 of the license may protect these activities under fair use, the restrictions about them earlier in the agreement are troubling and contradictory. Furthermore, actual implementation of these measures would seem to require mass surveillance of university internet use, with disturbing implications for privacy and academic freedom. We must carefully consider how this agreement will constrict our academic options in the future, especially since the agreement will be difficult to exit when it is up for renewal.

The fees involved also constitute a substantial expense for our university community. As you know, the agreement mandates $26 per full-time student, though the average student pays considerably less currently. We thank you for contributing a $3.50 subsidy towards this amount, and we are encouraged by the possibility that you may be able to offer additional support in this regard. However, the entire premise of this cost being borne by students is unfair, and it was not within AUCC’s position to offer this. Students already contribute greatly to copyright management (and all other affairs of the University) through our tuition fees. All members of the Queen’s community will be affected by this agreement, and yet (saving the subsidy) the cost is borne completely by students.

The agreement’s generally unfavourable nature, whether financially, technologically, or academically, makes it a very unattractive deal. Access Copyright seems to recognize this, and have conducted their negotiations with threats of increased surveillance and legal action. Such behaviour seems more akin to a protection racket than a business model, but it is only prudent for any administration to worry about the potential liability if their institution is amongst the few who refuse to sign. It is thus important to recognize that in disputes between copyright agencies such as Access Copyright and universities, courts tend overwhelmingly to find in the universities’ favour, as for instance in the landmark Copyright Clearance Center vs. Georgia State University, in which 95 of 99 claims were thrown out of court on fair use grounds. In Canada, fair use protections are already much stronger than they are in the United States, and with Bill C-11 expected to become law soon, fair use protections for academic institutions will become stronger still. The actual threat posed by Access Copyright may thus be far less than their negotiators would have universities believe.

If Queen’s rejects this agreement, we will not be alone. Indeed, if we accept it, we may stand with an unhappy few saddled with an exploitative and inconvenient arrangement that hinders our activities compared to other institutions. Faculty and student unions at institutions across the country have been vocal and unanimous in their opposition since the model license agreement was announced by the AUCC. The Senate of Trent University passed a motion rejecting the agreement, and the University of British Columbia – whose President sits as the chair of the AUCC – has announced that it will refuse to sign the agreement, and will instead use its own resources to manage copyright. Athabasca University, the University of Windsor, and the University of Winnipeg have likewise rejected the agreement. With our resources, and with the support of likeminded institutions, Queen’s can and will make a stand against this unfair deal.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Yours sincerely,

SGPS Executive

On behalf of SGPS Council

cc: Daniel Woolf, Principal and Vice-Chancellor

Ann Tierney, Vice-Provost and Dean of Student Affairs

The Senate of Queen’s University

The Board of Trustees of Queen’s University

Sources:

Canadian Association of University Teachers: http://www.caut.ca/pages.asp?page=1079

Manitoba Library Association: http://www.mla.mb.ca/

Ariel Katz: http://arielkatz.org/archives/1771, http://arielkatz.org/archives/1803

University of British Columbia: http://www.broadcastemail.ubc.ca/2012/05/15/ubc-is-not-signing-alicense-agreement-with-access-copyright/

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