Copyright fee for all

September 15, 2000

In its advertisement, the Copyright Licensing Agency repeats the spurious claim that its course pack clearance system is "a fair system for both the copyright user and the owners, ensuring authors and publishers are reasonably rewarded" (THES, September 8).

The CLA has a strange conception of what is "fair" and what "reasonably rewarded" means. If, for example, a drama professor at York University writes a journal article that becomes a "bestseller" on the UK university photocopier/course pack circuit and generates Pounds 500 yearly in copyright royalty fees, this professor is unlikely to receive even 1p of this revenue. Why? Because if the journal's publisher holds copyright in 90-100 per cent of the total number of articles in a journal -and this is the usual situation - the publisher keeps 100 per cent of the royalty revenue. In the case of most academic articles, this money is paid to the CLA by universities, including York University, for an article written by its own member of staff. Most universities, in turn, usually charge students, which means students of this same drama professor will be charged for an article written by their own teacher.

Moreover, the CLA's forms, which universities use for clearing articles in course packs, include neither the name of the author nor the title, but instead only the name of the publisher and the journal. Hence, even if the 90 per cent hurdle is cleared, the Pounds 500 royalty fees are shared among all authors published in that journal. This means that an academic whose article is photocopied hundreds of times receives the same royalty cheque as one whose article in the same journal is never copied. And if this popular article is released on the web and generates further revenues, the drama professor again loses out because digitalisation rights have been assigned to publishers as a condition of publication.

Only the most blinkered would call this system "fair".

Alan Story Lecturer in intellectual property Kent Law School

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