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 firstname.lastname@example.org.