'A logistical nightmare': Teachers at 300 Canadian schools ordered to provide 7 years of lesson plans

Teachers at schools across Canada are being asked to provide their teaching materials since 2013, thanks to an ongoing copyright lawsuit between the provinces and publishers.

Legal spat between provinces and Access Copyright connected to K-12 educational materials

Teachers at schools across the country are being asked to compile teaching materials and lesson plans dating back to 2013, as part of a court order in an ongoing lawsuit. (Chutima Chaochaiya/Shutterstock)

Teachers at 300 schools across Canada have been ordered to provide teaching materials from the last seven years, thanks to an ongoing copyright lawsuit between the provinces and publishers.

A judge has ordered eight schools with the Hanover School Division in Manitoba to compile and catalogue copies of their handouts and lesson plans from 2013 onward, the Hanover Teachers' Association says.

"For a lot of teachers, it could be a logistical nightmare," said Wendell Head, the association's president. 

"A lot of times we change courses, grades, sometimes we throw the materials out, sometimes they're in a box in the garage.… Now you have to go digging for that."

For some teachers, it will be a lot of work, and the end of the year is a particularly busy time in schools, he said.

Many teachers have been working extra hours to get the items compiled and catalogued, while the school division has provided substitute teachers and information technology support to help with uploading the documents, Head said.

River East Transcona School Division confirmed it has schools that are part of the court order, while the head of the Pembina Trails Teachers' Association said eight of that division's schools have also been ordered to comply.

Winnipeg School Division, the province's largest, said it is not affected. 

There are likely more Manitoba schools, but the Department of Education would not provide a list of the affected divisions.

"School divisions across Canada … have been selected at random to determine how they use copyrighted material. Neither the Hanover School Division, nor other school divisions, are being sued through this litigation, and they are providing information requested by the court," a spokesperson for Manitoba Education wrote.

Legal spat related to fair dealing

The legal spat is between Access Copyright — which represents and collects royalties for tens of thousands of Canadian writers, artists and publishers — and the Education departments for all provinces and territories, excluding B.C. and Quebec.

The lawsuit, which has been ongoing since February 2018, started when Education departments across Canada claimed the kindergarten to Grade 12 school system was paying too much in fees to copy published material, suing Access Copyright for $25 million.

Access Copyright then counter-sued for $50 million, arguing that Canadian schools make more than 150 million photocopies of copyrighted material each year that require payment.

In 2012, Canada changed the rules surrounding the educational use of copyrighted materials.

The law established "fair dealing" for school use. A further Supreme Court decision ruled that teachers in Canada can make copies of certain materials for classes without paying royalties.

But those changes had a detrimental effect on the Canadian publishing industry, said Kirsten Phillips, president of the Association of Manitoba Book Publishers. Phillips also works for Portage & Main Press, a Winnipeg-based publishing house that produces reading and textbook materials for children and schools.

Kirsten Phillips says the changes to how schools pay for copyrighted materials have had a disastrous effect on the Canadian publishing industry. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Several Manitoba publishers have experienced a drop in copyright revenues from 75 to 90 per cent and are also seeing a decrease in sales of books, she said.

Phillips said in one case, a Manitoba publisher received an order for one single copy of a textbook for an entire school.

While she feels for teachers, Phillips said the court order is necessary to give a clearer picture of how published work is being copied.

"This is a way of showing that yes, these teachers do use these materials. And we do need to pay the proper creator for the work that they're using in their classroom."

CBC News requested interviews with Manitoba's education minister and the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, but interviews weren't granted.


Marina von Stackelberg is a senior reporter at CBC's Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa. She previously worked as a reporter and host in Winnipeg, with earlier stints in Halifax and Sudbury. Her stories regularly appear across the country on CBC Radio and CBC News Network. Connect with her by email at or on social media @CBCMarina.