Why I’m withdrawing from Copibec’s class-action suit against Université Laval (traduction)

(English post will start just after this blockquote.)

FR: Voici une traduction effectuée par l’Association canadienne des professeures et professeurs d’universités (dont je suis membre) du billet diffusé le 8 septembre 2017, intitulé « Pourquoi je vais me retirer du recours collectiv de Copibec contre l’Université Laval »

EN: This is a translation by the Canadian Associaiton of University Teachers (of which I am a member) of a post I wrote on September 8th on this blog.

As the author of published works, I qualify as a party to the class-action lawsuit brought by Copibec against Université Laval. That said, I plan to sign the opt-out form that will remove me from the class action and send it to both the registrar of the court and Copibec’s mailing address before October 15.

I’d like to put forward some of the reasons behind my decision, and which I hope will stand in support of Université Laval.

Before I continue, I invite the rest of the university community to join me in withdrawing from the class-action suit. All you need to do is complete the form provided on Copibec’s website and send it to the court clerk. The mailing address is on the form:


I have two reasons for opting out: 1) the suit ignores the business realities of the academic setting and 2) it constitutes a severe breach of academic freedom and intellectual freedom, which are intertwined with freedom of expression.

1. Business realities of academic publishing


Despite Copibec’s complaints against Laval, in 2014-15, the institution spent $12.6 million on documents for its library, surpassed only by McGill University ($18.9 million).

Here’s a broader context: Quebec universities as a whole spent more than $63 million on library acquisitions, whereas the grand total for universities across Canada stands at $311 million. Public libraries in Quebec dished out roughly $30 million, and Quebec households bought more than $1 billion in books, newspapers and magazines. In 2012-13, more than two thirds of these expenditures (70% in Quebec) were for digital collections. What’s more, because digital sources now gobble up such a huge portion of annual acquisition budgets, the BCI no longer distinguishes between print and digital in its annual statistics.

The basic difference between a print collection and a digital one is easy to understand. Digital collections are acquired under a licence agreement that specifies usage rights, such as photocopying the material and sharing it with students through learning management systems. Print collections are governed by copyright law and by the licences of copyright-management collectives. Over the past few years, scientific publishers have in fact offered digital bundles for collections that institutions already have in hard-copy format—especially for scientific journals. Yes, university libraries have repurchased a significant portion of their existing print collections in digital format.

As a result, the proportion of print material(requiring a Copibec licence) of regular acquisitions is dwindling in the average Québec university library. In contrast, digital acquisitions, which require a licence similar to what Copibec offers, are booming. This new reality means that access rights, introduced by the Harper government in 2012 , are bundled, through licences, with digital works.

In fact, consumers of digital content are in the same boat: all platforms offering copyright-protected works in digital format always do so after having agreed to a digital licence. Reading a book on Kindle? You’ve said yes to Amazon. Same thing for Netflix, iTunes, Google Play, Steam… Consumers can simply glance over the terms of these licences but information professionals – your librarians, library technicians and clerks behind the scenes–well, they read and negotiate them on your behalf.

Let’s summarize the situation using the following equation, regardless of format or type of content:

Use = document + rights


In the print world, the equation was as follows:

Course packs sold to students = a university library’s print collection + Copibec licence


In the world of digital scholarly publishing, the reality that I experience and have studied is:

Use = digital document directly from the publisher + usage licence directly from the publisher

(Remember that libraries have transitioned to digital collections and acquire these in massive numbers.)

Note that without the publisher’s licence, it’s IMPOSSIBLE to acquire a digital resource. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand that, for the average Quebec university, a licence with Copibec IS WORTH NEXT TO NOTHING. Why? Because the percentage of works offered in our licensed collections (that is, digital) is skyrocketing.

What’s more, I think Université Laval is one of the only Quebec universities to have done any rigorous “library economics” homework. All of the other universities in the province are passing along the cost of Copibec’s licence to their students, through ancillary fees, so they don’t see the urgency of challenging the current copyright orthodoxy.

If I were so bold as to summarize Copibec’s position, the fundamental equation for library-based access to works would be as follows:

Use = document comes from who knows where, and maybe from what’s left in the paper collection + copyright infringement through the fair dealing exception.

This assertion comes from a fairy tale that doesn’t reflect what I experience at work every day. My doctoral research, based on empirical analyses, confirms what I’m seeing at work.

Indeed, resorting to the principle of “fair dealings” is itself an exception, and to get back to the rocket-scientist analogy, a diligent and reasonable rights holder would immediately grasp its clients’ interest for digital material and put forward a palatable solution… Digitizing a work costs money. Consider all of the universities that digitize works on the fly to tap into the concept of fair dealings as an exception to copyright. The copyright holder could digitize everything in one fell swoop and sell the same copy to every university … around the world! That’s one of the secret formulas of the world’s biggest academic publishers.

If the Canadian government adopted a full slate of exceptions in the 2012 Copyright Act, it also assigned a new right to rights holders: making material available online. Quebec’s universities, especially Laval, diligently kept pace with the world of academic publishing in embracing digital formats. I don’t think Laval is at fault here, but I do think that Copibec, in reality, is defending a sort of commercial sloth. In addition, I believe the cultural sector is transposing its own reality on that of academia. The market failures and externalities of one sector are not the same as in others, even though copyright governs them all.

In fact, it would be more relevant to consider fair dealings as the public sector’s investment in mastering the workings of the markets and of the social systems generated by the digital world. University libraries, together with professors, students, techno-educators and other partners, are analyzing the needs of their clienteles and are trying to establish economic and social systems around digital works. We then transfer this knowledge to the industry through negotiated licence agreements or through exceptions. In both cases, opportunity knocks for whoever understands the message and adjusts accordingly. Copibec should put forward a business deal that considers our needs—suing libraries points to a woeful misunderstanding of the powerful trends affecting university markets and the academic publishing sector.

What happened to the horse when the automobile was invented…? Darwin and Shumpeter can shed some light on that.

This isn’t only my professional assessment of the situation, but also the conclusion of my doctoral thesis (which I’ll be defending on September 15).


2. Academic and intellectual freedom: integral parts of freedom of expression


I developed the link between academic and intellectual freedom and freedom of expression in a book chapter dealing with open access, available at Concordia University’s Research Repository, and which was published in the Handbook of Intellectual Freedom. All of the authors of this work won awards for their contributions from the Intellectual Freedom Round Table of the American Library Association. Here is an excerpt from my chapter:


There is a clear consensus in the literature that intellectual freedom is directly linked with freedom of expression, the press and to access and use information and that it is a core value of librarianship. Gorman famously stated that:

In the United States, [intellectual freedom] is constitutionally protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution, which states, in part, ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging freedom of speech, or of the press.’ There is, of course, no such thing as an absolute freedom outside the pages of fiction and utopian writings, and, for that reason, intellectual freedom is constrained by law in every jurisdiction.” (2000, p. 88)

Gorman continues to state that rarely are proponents “for” or “against” intellectual freedom, but they articulate their views in absolute or relative terms. On these issues, Hauptman (2002 pp. 16-29) as well as and McMenemy, Poulter and Burton (2007) offer additional evidence and insight. The link between intellectual freedom and censorship is obvious.

Intellectual freedom is also linked with Article 19 of the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” (1948)

Samek (2007, pp. 9-11) provides an account of how various groups, such as United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) have further articulated the concept of intellectual freedom in various initiatives and declarations.

Barendt offers an interesting distinction between academic freedom, a well-known right professors enjoy in universities, and intellectual freedom:

[a] cademic freedom is not identical to intellectual freedom or to freedom of the mind. Intellectual freedom is a right to which we are all entitled, wherever we work. Like freedom of speech or expression, it is a general right belonging to all citizens.” (2010, p. 38)

In discussing how intellectual freedom and freedom of expression are intertwined, Krug further articulates, in light of librarianship, that:

All people have the right to hold any belief or idea on any subject and to express those beliefs or ideas in whatever form they consider appropriate. The ability to express an idea or a belief is meaningless, however, unless there is an equal commitment to the right of unrestricted access to information and ideas regardless of the communication medium. Intellectual freedom, then, is the right to express one’s ideas and the right of others to be able to read, hear or view them.” (2006, p. 394-5)

From these points, we can draw a common thread for intellectual freedom, namely that it is universal in enshrining our right to access and use information. In light of this, intellectual freedom intersects or overlaps with open access in that the former is promoted as a way to maximize or optimize access to and use of digital documents and information, while the latter expresses a fundamental right of the same vein.

I believe that Copibec’s suit, despite its legality from a strictly legal point of view, illegitimately and inordinately undermines our fundamental rights.


3. Supporting statistics 


—In 2014-15, Québec universities spent just under $70 million on library acquisitions (source: BCI).

—Canadian university libraries spent more than $311 million on acquisitions (source: CARL/ABRC 2014/15).

—In comparison, Québec households spent $657 million on books ($3 billion across Canada) and $417 million on newspapers and periodicals (just under $2 billion across Canada) in 2015 (source: Statistics Canada. Table 384-0041 – Detailed household final consumption expenditure provincial and territorial – annual (dollars)) CANSIM (socioeconomic data base). Site consulted on September 7, 2017.

—Percentage of acquisitions in digital format: 2012-2013 was the last year in which the library sub-committee of the Bureau de coopération interuniversitaire distinguished between digital and print acquisitions, with roughly three quarters of expenditures going to digital at the time. That proportion has increased steadily since (take my word for it, a librarian with more than 14 years’ experience).


4. Sources


Barendt, E. M. 2010. Academic freedom and the law: A comparative study. Oxford; Portland, Or.: Hart Pub.

Gorman, Michael. 2000. Our enduring values: Librarianship in the 21st century. Chicago: American Library Association.

Hauptman: forward of Buchanan, Elizabeth A., and Kathrine Henderson, eds. 2009. Case studies in library and information science ethics. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co.

Krug, Judith F. 2006. Libraries and the Internet. Chap. 7.3, In Intellectual freedom manual, ed. Office for Intellectual Freedom. 7th ed., 394. Chicago: American Library Association.

McMenemy, David, Alan Poulter and Paul F. Burton. A handbook of ethical practice: a practical guide to dealing with ethical issues in information and library work. Oxford: Chandos, 2007.

Samek, Toni. 2007. Librarianship and human rights: A twenty-first century guide. Oxford, England: Chandos.

Ce contenu a été mis à jour le 2017-09-22 à 14 h 48 min.