The 2012 Copyright Modernization Act in Canada has been a disaster for Canadian educational publishers. But concern over the law’s effects, observers say, is not limited to Canada.

“The royalties that have traditionally come from our Canadian sister organizations have fallen like a stone since the 2012 Copyright Modernization Act,” acknowledged Copyright Clearance Center’s Michael Healy, on a panel Thursday morning at the Frankfurt Book Fair. But “what has become the norm in Canada,” Healy added, has for some reason become “an exemplar” for other governments around the world.

“Somehow the Canadian experience is being held up for countries to follow,” Healy said, noting that the takeaway seems to be that when it comes to educational use “copy as much as you like, and to hell with the creator.”

Canadian publisher Glenn Rollans, president of the Association of Canadian Publishers, explained to attendees how the law has devastated Canadian publishers, noting that the addition of “education” as a purpose for fair dealing (the Canadian equivalent of fair use in the U.S.) in the 2012 legislation has meant that both the k-12 and higher education sectors in Canada now claim for free the same copies for which they had previously paid license fees. And that, Rollans said, has blown a more than C$50 million hole in publishers’ revenues.

“I think of it as the check that used to come to my company that represented my profit margin, more than my profit margin. And that has essentially disappeared,” Rollans told the audience.

Perhaps more alarming, he added, is that the law has also created a “free use zone, rather than a fair use zone” for educational institutions. “It’s very tough to compete with free,” Rollans said. “If there is a use that is 10% [of a work] or a single chapter and your institution is telling you that you can use it for free, that competes very aggressively with any paid solution a publisher can offer.”

And it has also enabled a “scavenging” of the information industry, he claimed, where instructors and students look to publish resources as fodder that can be “versioned” or “assembled as spare parts,” and then offered as Open Educational Resources, or as open access resources. “That means the real damage to our marketplace is almost impossible to quantify,” Rollans said.

Healy pointed out that publishers in other territories, including Australia and South Africa, must pay attention to what’s happening in Canada. “My grave concern,” Healy said, “is that the ball that has started to roll downhill in Canada will roll downhill in many, many other places to the commercial detriment of copyright, of authors, publishers and everybody else in the publishing value chain.”

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