There’s more than one kind of thievery

Russell Wangersky
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

It’s funny: write a column about memory (as I did last weekend) and someone will just go ahead and steal a piece of it.

Early in the morning on Saturday, someone went through my car and stole some small things, including a silver coloured cigarette-package-sized fly box. Not much in it: mostly battered, careworn (and fish-worn) flies that I kept more for their particular memories than for anything else.

The car was somehow left unlocked and a thief took advantage; it happens.

But, in the end, that box of flies belonged to me. Not to the person who decided to simply take it without my permission.

Early in the morning on Sunday, a show on CBC Radio talked about stealing something else of mine.

The president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Libraries Association, Crystal Rose, was on “Weekend Arts Magazine” urging Memorial University not to sign a new agreement with Access Copyright, the national body that oversees the copying of work by artists and writers.

The new agreement would cover situations where professors want to photocopy one or two poems or short stories for their classes, so students don’t have to buy full books. It covers other copying and the use of copyrighted materials as well.

The cost? Around $26 a year per student. Just to keep that in perspective: a first-year biology book for one course can cost $135 — no one is going around complaining that students shouldn’t have to buy their bio books. Hey, students pay more than $26 for access to MUN’s phys ed facilities and for student union fees.

But pay me for my work? That’s another story. For some reason, that’s an infringement of academic freedom, an unreasonable cost, a downright abuse.

Rose and her association are asking MUN not to sign the agreement, saying “that would be best for students and faculty.”

Rose raised other concerns as well, saying that keeping track of what they were copying constitutes an unreasonable intrusion into the privacy of copiers.

But primarily, Rose is concerned about students and faculty having to pay for the work they use.

What about the writers?

What Rose didn’t mention, not even once, was what would be best for the writers and artists who actually created the work — and don’t forget, these writers are professionals, too. Writers, get this, own the copyright — and that means, if you don’t come to an agreement with me or my representative, you have no right to copy my work.

I own it. That shouldn’t be a difficult concept to grasp.

Here’s something else that would be best for students: if librarians and university professors weren’t paid for their work, either. Think about how much students could save on tuition. Imagine if none of the professionals who work at the university drew a salary — why, we could have virtually free education. I don’t think you’d keep many professors, though.

I like libraries — I’ve worked in libraries, both as a periodicals assistant and as an archival assistant. As a writer, I’ve even found time to work inside libraries. I appreciate their gentle, special quiet and I don’t begrudge my tax dollars going to wide-open facilities that anyone can enjoy.

And I certainly appreciate that universities are expensive. I have a youngster in university right now, so I know what the bills are like, for everything from classes to books.

But this approach is wrong-headed — if I create something, I shouldn’t be asked to simply offer it up as charity.

I am delighted when I hear that some of my work is being used in a university class. I’m sure that a farmer who was told his produce was being used in a high-class restaurant would be delighted with that news, too. The farmer probably wouldn’t hand over the produce for free, though.

I hear what Rose is saying loud and clear: people want the benefit of copying other people’s work and using it on the cheap in their research and studies. They don’t really want to pay for it.

Are writers like me supposed to be grateful for that?

I send the same message to anyone who wants to simply take something of mine.

Stay the heck out of my car. And keep your grubby little hands off my stuff.


Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at

Organizations: CBC Radio, Newfoundland and Labrador Libraries Association

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page



Recent comments

  • grisha
    June 01, 2012 - 12:28

    It is strange to me how someone can view matters from one hard core perspective that, amazingly, benefits his own self. First, copywrite laws, like any others, are purely a product of human imagination. Maybe the ten commandments were set in stone but those are the only ones I can recall right off hand. The right to protect and profit from the written word, artistry, architectural plans, music, whatever is a TOTAL invention and yet you speak of it and your exact interpretation of it as some sort holy grail or God given truth. I suppose that is simply human nature, but, puleeeeeze, spare us the self righteous indignation. Second, lets look at some other folks' perspectives. You often write about things you see, hear, etc. and use them for YOUR own fun and profit yet I doubt that you ever renumerate the owner of the driveway, lawn, pasture, building, stream, whatever, for incorporating his property into your own written word and sell. Why not pay for the priviledge of expounding upon some property of another instead of "simply taking something" of his? Funny how things can look out of someone else's eyes.

  • Paul Bowdring
    June 01, 2012 - 09:27

    Hats off to Russell Wangersky for his spirited defence of the Access Copyright program, which, along with the Canada Council's Public Lending Right program, provides much needed supplementary income for professional writers, whose average incomes nationally are below the poverty line. In her interview with the CBC, Crystal Rose, president of the NL Libraries Association, attacks the Access Copyright program and defends the rights of students, academics, and researchers, but makes no mention of writers' rights whatsoever! It can only be simple arrogance or blissful ignorance that enables a LIBRARIAN to actively undermine a professional group (writers) without whose work (books) her own profession and institution (the library) would not exist.

    • W McLean
      June 04, 2012 - 00:11

      If the average income of writers is below the poverty line, then you need a new definition of "professional". What is the source for this pseudo-statistic, that has been floating around since at least the 1970s?

  • Ron Tizzard
    June 01, 2012 - 08:26

    Accumitively, I spent about 20 years in and around the world of acedemia, completing my basic education to grade 12, and thereafter completing three degrees at Mun. I was the average student i.e. attending classes, doing reference work hours on end at thew Mun library and on-line. The question raised today never crossed my mind. I didn't give my reference searches...hundreds through the years ...a second thought. But, the source of references, direct quotes etc. (many 1000s as one might imagine) were always attached; class handouts were also referenced. The works of otheres were always duely noted, expected and respected. Through these years, for this post graduate, the question of authors being compensated for 'quotations used'' from their materials etc. was never raised (and for me, it never crossed my mind). But, now that the question is raised, I think the Institutions of learning should offer some 'compensation' to authors. The only question does it get done? The dairy farmer is compensated for his milk which he delivers to the supermarket each day; why not compensate an author for his/her intellectual works used many years repeatedly to further the 'intelligence' in its broadest form to produce well educated people to create and run our public services; to contribute to the production of ntelligent minds to develop and offer the creative arts and entertainment we frequently attend. I think the question of compensation to authors (and perhaps other 'trades) by way of 'copyright', whatever way it exists or should be developed is only right and fair. On the physical side of life, people are compensated, and society supports that; why not the authors of intellectual produce within the realm of education and research. I think the only question that should be asked is...HOW DOES THAT GET DONE.

  • Phil
    May 30, 2012 - 09:57

    That is a rather poor comparison Mr. Wangersky. When was the last time you rented a car? I rented one on last Tuesday for a week, and there was no cost associated with the number of kilometers I had driven (perhaps you should call budget and find that out for yourself). We had agreed to a set price based on the number of days the car was needed. Now, can you imagine my outrage if after I had signed the contract and returned the car that I was additionally charged for kilometers? That is what Access Copyright is doing with this bit of contract restructuring. Hopefully you have never opened a book at chapters to read a few pages without first having paid for it. Oh woe to the poor author who wasn't compensated for your bit of free reading.

  • Russell Wangersky
    May 29, 2012 - 20:43

    For those interested in the debate, Access Copyright had this to say about a deal reached today with the association of Canadian community colleges: "Access Copyright announced today that they have agreed on a model licence with the Association of Community Colleges of Canada (ACCC) that will give community colleges in Canada the ability to copy from over 22 million works from Access Copyright’s broad repertoire. Under the model licence ACCC institutions will pay Access Copyright a royalty of $10.00 per full-time equivalent student (FTE) annually. This royalty includes what used to be a separate 10 cents per page royalty for coursepack copying, so there will no longer be a separate royalty for such copying. Although we have little data regarding digital copying on campuses, historical coursepack usage data indicates that universities copy 2.6 times more than colleges. “Access Copyright’s repertoire consists of published works from thousands of Canadian creators and hundreds of Canadian publishers and countless foreign rightsholders from 28 other countries, making the model licence a great value,” said Maureen Cavan, Executive Director of Access Copyright. “ACCC member institutions can now copy portions of practically every publication that exists in paper form that is not on our exclusions list and reproduce it into digital or print form.” This agreement will be in place until December 31, 2015 and will renew automatically for one-year terms. At the end of the term, either party can also cancel or request to renegotiate the agreement. A survey methodology will be designed jointly to gather reliable data to allow Access Copyright to make fair distribution of royalties to its affiliates and to assist in establishing appropriate future licence rates. The survey will be designed to minimize the administrative burden on both parties, in particular academic staff and students, and will respect academic freedom, privacy and the obligations of colleges under collective agreements with faculty and staff." So perhaps a negotiation had reach a result.

  • ECK
    May 29, 2012 - 20:40

    "Ms. Rose and I have a difference of opinion - my major concern is that this whole debate is being cast as a battle of Access Copyright versus university learning." The only person who has framed it this way is you, Mr. Wangersky. Actually, you have mostly created the illusion that it's an issue between a lone, brave writer and the beastly NLLA.

  • Skeptical Cynic
    May 29, 2012 - 20:23

    RW's rant kind of reminded me of the children's story The Stolen Smell... the one about the greedy baker who tried to charge his neighbour for enjoying the smell of his fresh-baked cinnamon buns...

  • ECK
    May 29, 2012 - 20:13

    Mr. Wangersky, Your caricatured paraphrasing of Ms. Rose's words is not only misleading, it makes you look silly. The NLLA's position is fairly clear: rights to many of the works covered under the Access Copyright tariff are already purchased by universities; the Access Copyright license extends the definition of copyright beyond legal precedent; the license restricts personal use of some materials for purposes such as indexing; and it mandates that institutions monitor the transfer of works, even within emails - which suggests quite strongly that monitoring emails would be necessary. You can simplify this argument down to "Wah, somebody pay me cuz im a good riter!!!!!!1!" all you want, but you should at least acknowledge that the issue has some complexity and that the NLLA is not trying to "steal" from you. They're taking a stand on an issue of copyright, perhaps one that is a bit difficult for you to understand.

  • hj
    May 29, 2012 - 19:51

    Hey, Russell. I didn't have to pay anything to access this article of yours. Are you going to start a protest against your employer for allowing me to view this FOR FREE? Yes, I know you were compensated for writing the article in the first place but doesn't it make you oh so angry that so many people are just looking at your work with their grubby little eyes? If you want to keep your writing so close, then keep it in your diary. And stop trying to slander Ms. Rose. It's amazing how you've twisted her words around. It doesn't show you're a good writer, that twisting. It merely shows you don't listen.

    • Russell Wangersky
      May 29, 2012 - 20:17

      Hi HJ: I don't mind at all that the article is on the Internet: my employer and I have a contract that spells out what the copyright is, and we agree on it. It's being used with - wait for it - the permission of the copyright holder. Ms. Rose and I have a difference of opinion - my major concern is that this whole debate is being cast as a battle of Access Copyright versus university learning. And everybody seems to forget it's about real, live work done by real, live people who have to make a living, too. Doesn't make me in the least bit angry that people are reading it - there is a contract in place, and it suits both employer and employee.

  • Kelly Hatch
    May 29, 2012 - 19:40

    I am dissappointed in Mr. Wangersky, who has missed the point. In no way is the Newfoundland and Labrador Libraries Association advocating that indiviudals not been given proper credit, and where appropriate, financial compensation for their work. Where the attention needs to be focused is on the lack of details in this argreement which can threaten the creative and intellectual freedom that contributes to the creation of these works in the first place. As an indiviudal it concerns me greatly that what I search for when conducting research, what information I share with others to generate discussion and ideas will be under scutiny. The lack of details about how activities will be monitored to ensure compliance is another reason for concern. I am not convinced that copyright protection at the expense of intellectual freedom is worth it.

    • Russell Wangersky
      May 29, 2012 - 20:31

      Hi ECK: I enjoyed the juxtaposition of "caricatured paraphrasing" of Ms. Rose with your description of me as "cuz im a good riter," but seriously; the fact is that most of the rights covered under Access Copyright's tariff aren't actually purchased by universities, especially not those that have opted out in the past. There are issues to be determined for sure - interesting that Canadian community colleges agreed today to an Access Copyright agreement, well, much like the one the universities have been asked to accept. As to the extension of the reach of copyright - that could easily have been fought before the copyright board - except the universities have withdrawn from that forum.

    • Russell Wangersky
      May 29, 2012 - 20:34

      For Kelly Hatch: I understand your concerns to a point, but think of it this way for a moment: you rent a car that you don't own, but pay to use, by the kilometre. Are you suggesting that the company that rents you the car is invading your privacy by asking to look at the odometer?

  • PostMortem
    May 29, 2012 - 17:55

    I am a musician, I know my work has been sampled in India without my consent, permission, credit or reparation. I don't care. Music is a gift to the world and if some kid in India wants to take a few riffs out of 2024, then he can have it. It sounded a lot like pulling teeth anyway. Everything should be open-sourced. Grow up people, money isn't even real.

  • Russell Wangersky
    May 29, 2012 - 17:31

    For Ms. Rose: I am an Access Copyright affiliate and glad of it: you may not know that among the work that the Access licence includes in this deal are "course packs" of whole stories or poems photocopied and distributed by professors. And despite its official position, does MUN play fair with writers? Well, that depends: in the absence of an agreement with Access, I know that writers in this province were approached for individual licences for their work, and offered payment of $0 - but they were supposed to be pleased with the fact their work was at least being distributed. I'm glad to be represented, rather than bullied. If the work is such a minor part of the university's needs, by all means opt out - but do not try to force side-deals on writers for free. Copyright is copyright. Russell Wangersky

    • Crystal Rose
      May 29, 2012 - 18:55

      Yes, I am aware that course packs seem to be the primary usage the AC licence covers (which constitutes a very small proportion of the copying being done at Memorial). I wholeheartedly agree that Memorial should compensate writers and publishers for copying and distributing their work for purposes not covered by fair dealing or educational exemptions, but I think, as do many copyright experts, that AC has gone beyond that with a licence that contains many unreasonable and unrealistic terms at an exorbitant cost to post-secondary institutions. You note, "there’s more than one kind of thievery"? Yes, there certainly is.

  • Crystal Rose
    May 29, 2012 - 16:48

    Although Mr. Wangersky suggests what I was "saying loud and clear" was that "people want the benefit of copying other people’s work and using it on the cheap in their research and studies", that was certainly not what I wished to imply. Memorial University does pay for permission to copy works where the conditions of fair dealing and educational exemptions do not apply, and obviously creators and publishers should be fairly compensated for their work. However, my point, which Mr. Wangersky seems to have missed entirely, was that Access Copyright wishes to charge people for uses which are permitted for free under Canadian Copyright law, and restrict people from doing things which they are allowed to do. Mr. Wangersky says "if you don’t come to an agreement with me or my representative, you have no right to copy my work" but that depends on what specifically he means by copying. Individuals are permitted to copy insubstantial portions of his work, and copy substantial portions under fair dealing for the purpose of research or private study. Copyright laws seek to achieve balance between the rights of a copyright owner and users’ interests; the proposed Access Copyright licence does not. Also, Access Copyright does not represent all creators and publishers in Canada (I wonder if Mr. Wangersky is even represented by them?), nor do they even have rights to much of the material being used at post-secondary institutions. $26 per student is a high-price for what amounts to a relatively small repertoire, and Access Copyright has been accused of lacking transparency in its royalty distribution and in what percentage even gets to writers like Mr. Wangersky. For a more detailed criticism of the licence:

  • Catherine
    May 29, 2012 - 15:43

    At no point did Ms. Rose suggest that authors or publishers not be compensated for the work they do. Nor did she suggest that faculty hand out photocopies of published copyrighted works in the classroom. The Copyright Board of Canada and the Federal Court of Appeal have held that the making of multiplecopies to hand out to students for the purpose of education is not one of the fair dealing purposes. This information is readily available on the copyright information website at Memorial University of Newfoundland.

  • W McLean
    May 29, 2012 - 14:17

    In many countries, including the US, with its large publishing industry, this debate wouldn't exist: such educational use of copyrighted materials would not need to be licensed. It is "fair use", just as "fair dealing" allows newspapers to quote from copyright works. The collective agencies in Canada, especially "Excess Copyright", are often times licensing rights, and in respect of works or uses, which do not need licensing. And they are pricing themselves out of their own market. No writer needs shed a tear for them.

  • Carl
    May 29, 2012 - 09:58

    Grow up and stop whining, Russell. Once you have published a work you can't expect to bill everyone who accesses it. If I buy a book that you wrote (not likely, but let's imagine), then I own that book. And if I want to lend it to someone to read, that is my prerogative. Copying an excerpt from it for someone else's use is no different. If a professor or a school buys a copy of a book, they should of course be able to lend it or provide copies of excerpts to students - free of charge. Who knows - the free publicity your work gets through such sharing might actually encourage sales. If the school were copying and distributing the whole thing, or selling the excerpts, that would be different. But that is not what we're talking about here. You're just being greedy and unreasonable.

    • Eli
      May 29, 2012 - 14:15

      So if I like the color of your lawn I can just go in and cut a dozen or so sods out of it. Is that what you're sayin' Carl? Y'er nuts b'y.

    • Carl
      May 29, 2012 - 18:57

      Eli, thanks for the chuckle. But of course that's not what I'm saying. If someone steals my sod, then I am deprived of my sod. But art doesn't work that way. If an author writes something and someone buys a copy of it and then decides to share it with someone else, that does not deprive the original author of their work. So it's not like stealing someone's sod. Let's stick with the gardening theme: Suppose I create a unique hybrid rose bush and sell cuttings from it. Now someone buys a cutting from me, grows their own rose bush, and then takes a cutting from their own rose bush to give to someone else. Should that person have to pay me because I created the original rose bush? Of course not.

    • T
      May 30, 2012 - 09:17

      ELI: If that person asked you to click a piece of your sod so you can grow your own. Have you committed theft against the people who produced the seeds to originally grow the lawn? How many people in Newfoundland have bought a flower and given a clipping to a friend so they can grow their own. Is that theft? Nobody here is debating copyright as something that is right or wrong. Access copyright wants to charge Universities for linking websites - this article for example. Each time the link is sent in an e-mail, that constitutes a duplication of the article and requires a fee to be paid. Do you agree with this? Universities have no issues paying authors for their works. They're not agreeing to the double dipping access copyright is trying to get away with.

    • Eli
      May 30, 2012 - 09:30

      It ain't Miller Time yet, that's not 'till four o'clock, but I'm gonna have a nice cold beer anyway. Take a break and have one y'erselves b'ys.