Net firm bows to authors' demands

September 8, 2000

Canadian academics, angered by an agreement that allows an American e-commerce operation to sell their theses and dissertations over the internet, have convinced the company to remove their writings from the site. gave in to the demands after receiving a few hundred angry messages from academics who did not want the company, partly owned by Microsoft and two US television networks, to profit from their writing.

Contentville also received a visit in August from CanCopy, a Canadian copyright lobby group.

The online service agreed to take the material off their database after they found the Canadian authors had no choice but to have their work posted. When a Canadian student completes a masters programme, for example, the thesis is filed with the National Library of Canada and a contract is signed allowing archiving services to license a company, such as Contentville, to sell the material online.

In US contracts, academics have an opt-out clause. Contentville said it was uncomfortable with the Canadians not having this clause so they have agreed to remove their work from the database, letting them decide how best to disseminate their papers.

Contentville vice-president Stuart Jordan said: "This is a big issue the National Library and universities are wrestling with. We did not want to get in the middle of this."

This is not the first time Contentville, which has been trying to secure the ranking of number one purveyor of content on the internet, has met with anger from North American writers. Immediately after the company launched the service this year, US and Canadian writers complained it was carrying articles over which electronic rights had not been rescinded.

Contentville recently hammered out a deal with the (American) Writers' Union, which is likely to give magazine and newspaper journalists a 30 per cent royalty on each downloaded article sold. Most of the authors never gave up electronic rights so Contentville said it was just redirecting money that would have gone to publishers.

Academic contracts, on the other hand, allow for commercial subcontracting to a third party.

Academics are now offered scant remuneration from Contentville, earning a 10 per cent royalty only if their thesis has been downloaded more than seven times in a year. The National Library, which handles 10,000 papers processed from 51 Canadian universities, now has to come up with a programme that will satisfy academics.

The NL is to examine the costs of handling a not-for-profit cost-recovery programme, something being called for by the Canadian Association of University Teachers.

The NL's David Balatti finds it curious that a little-understood commercial contract that has been in effect since the late 1980s is now finding opposition in the electronic age. "There's something about it being on the internet that made it that much more visible," he said.

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