Progressive politics, ideas & culture


Copyright, copyleft? Hmmmmm, where’d this cheque come from?

This Magazine Staff

The other day, at a lovely historic hall in downtown Toronto I attended the annual general meeting of Access Copyright, Canada’s English language copyright licensing agency. What’s that you say? Access who? Licensing what? And the fact that 90% of Canadians would ask the same questions just means that, in a sense, Access Copyright is doing its job.

And its job is to, as quietly and seamlessly as possible, collect money from folks who do an awful lot of photo and digital copying of copyright material – textbooks, magazine articles, photographs – and funnel that money back to the folks who own copyright—the writers, illustrators, photographers and publishers. This past year, AC funneled just under $20 million dollars to those deserving cultural workers. This is an astounding success story, considering that only 10 years ago, creators and publishers in Canada weren’t seeing even 10% of that money. And this is real money we’re talking about, cash money, money that would have otherwise gone into profit statements for corporations and copy shops, or rolled into the budgets of universities and governments, without any recognition that copyright material was being illegally used. I got my cheque from AC this year, and it was welcome.

So, here’s a success story for Canadian culture. Yay. You don’t need to know about it, or care about it, because it works behind the scenes—and who would argue about a little bit more money making it to Canadian artists and publishers?

Oh wait, the copyleft movement would argue with that, or at least some in their fold would. Copylefters, lovingly profiled in this very magazine a year and a half ago, are the anarchists of creativity who, at their extreme edge, advocate the removal of all restraints on use and reuse of creative material. Music downloaders, cut and pasters – we all do it, and we’re all vaguely aware that at some point someone will probably figure out a way for us to pay for it. Certainly, I do not mind paying 99 cents to download a Ron Sexsmith song to my iMac, and I don’t really need to know where exactly every cent of that 99 is going. I assume Mr. Sexsmith is getting some of it, and if he’s not that he’ll make a big enough stink about it that the system will eventually change. Who can argue against artists getting paid for what they do?

And yet, it’s increasingly popular to do so. The Walrus just recently ran a sarcastic humour piece suggesting the publishing industry lobby for a hidden tax on blank paper, just like the music industry succeeded in doing on blank tapes and cds. It included some lame argument about people who only buy blank cds for data – why should they pay an extra cent or so because other people are putting copyrighted music on the cds? Well, it’s called the economy, and though I am NOT advocating for a paper tax here, I generally support any measure or agency, like Access Copyright, designed to help artists make a living at what they do. And I’ve got my cheque stub from AC to prove that’s what’s happening.

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