Manitoba

'Please don't steal my words': Copyright laws need to change, Winnipeg author says

A Winnipeg writer of fiction for children and young adults says the free ride that educational institutions have in photocopying authors' works needs to stop.

More than 600 million pages are copied for free each year, according to Writers' Union of Canada

'There seems to be this idea that all authors are living the J.K. Rowling lifestyle but the truth is, the average Canadian author makes $13,000 per year,' says Jodi Carmichael. (Caitlin Spencer)

A Winnipeg writer of fiction for children and young adults says the free ride that educational institutions have in photocopying authors' works needs to stop.

Jodi Carmichael wants to see writers, whose created works are being used by institutions, given the chance to earn their income from that use.

"It doesn't seem like rocket science to me. It seems pretty fair and that's what we're looking for, is fair," she said. "We're fine doing what we need to do to make ends meet. It's not like we're saying 'please give us something we haven't earned.'

"But please don't steal my words."

The Copyright Act, which is mandated to undergo a review every five years, is currently being scrutinized by the Commons committee on industry, science and technology. 

It was last amended in 2012, when Stephen Harper's Conservative government expanded the scope of "fair dealing," enabling short excerpts of a work — typically 10 per cent of the text — to be reproduced without infringing copyright.

Short excerpts of a work — typically 10 per cent of the text — can be reproduced without infringing on copyright under the current legislation. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

That means a teacher in a classroom, for example, can photocopy several pages or a chapter from a written work for their students. The education exception also means students are able to reference material that's typically copyrighted in their course work.

More than 600 million pages are copied for free every year by the education sector under the current copyright policies, according to the Writers' Union of Canada.

As a result, payment to writers for copies of their work has since dropped by 80 per cent, according to the union, which has been calling for the Copyright Act to be reverted to a place where creators of the material being used are better compensated.

"For people to say, 'Oh, I'll just photocopy a couple chapters here,' and then so does this other school and this other school, and the next thing you know it's a big loss [in revenue to authors and publishers]," said Carmichael.

​"So what's happening is, publishers no longer want to take a chance on small and risky ventures and new authors are having a harder time finding a place to be published within Canada. And that's frightening, because we have Canadian stories to be told."

Market for Canadian stories essential

Carmichael just launched her third book, Family of Spies, a story based loosely on her own great-grandfather, a Rhodes scholar and former pilot with the RCAF during the Second World War.

I actually would like to get paid for the literature I create for Canadian children. Your children.- Jodi Carmichael

That book represents four years worth of work, she said.

"We need publishers here being able to find a market, and if our market is not willing to pay for it because they'd like it free, that's not OK. And it's not OK for them to say it's [fine for] the education sector.… They should pay for the materials they use."

If there's no market anymore, some fiction won't be published at all — publishers in the United States don't want to invest in a book set in Canada with Canadian characters because they're focused on their own stories, Carmichael said.

As for educational texts, they will all come from the U.S. with American content if the publishing market here declines, she added.

"There seems to be this idea that all authors are living the J.K. Rowling lifestyle but the truth is, the average Canadian author makes $13,000 per year," Carmichael said.

"And that's not just from book sales. That's from author visits, doing conferences and speaking engagements, and payments from libraries and schools and universities."

Restrictions would hurt students: CASA

The Canadian Alliance of Student Associations told the House of Commons committee on Tuesday that restrictions on the scope of the copyright exceptions will hurt students and educators, especially if it leads to higher costs.

The alliance said ever-increasing tuition costs for students and limited resources available to teachers would have a chilling effect on education, preventing students from receiving instruction from diverse sources.

"I think that we've sort of fallen into this rabbit hole of 'everything should be free' — that we should be able to go onto the internet and Google anything and get answers right away, without thinking that when you're looking at creative content, somebody spent hours, months, their life creating that," said Carmichael.

"It's not up for grabs."

In a Facebook post that has been shared by other authors, Carmichael wrote: "As a Canadian author of literature for children and teens, I promote creative thinking and exploring new ideas when I visit classrooms.

"I actually would like to get paid for the literature I create for Canadian children. Your children."

The review process for the Copyright Act is expected to conclude by early 2019. Copyright issues related to music, radio, television and film will also be examined by the government committee.

With files from CBC's Nadia Kidwai and The Canadian Press

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