Linux, politics, and other interesting things
Brendan Scott linked to a couple of articles about CAL (the Copyright Agency Limited) . I have previously written about CAL and the way that they charge organisations for the work of others without their consent . My personal dispute with CAL is that they may be charging people to use my work, I have not given them permission to act on my behalf and will never do so. If they ever bill anyone for my work then it will be an act of piracy. The fact that the government through some bad legislation permitted them to do such things doesn’t prevent it from being piracy – you can’t disagree with this claim without supporting the past actions of China and other countries that have refrained from preventing factories from mass-producing unauthorised copies of software.
The first article concerns the fact that last year CAL paid more than $9,400,000 in salary to it’s employees (including $350,000 to it’s CEO) while it only paid $9,100,000 directly to the authors . It also spent another $300,000 to send it’s executives to a junket in Barbados. It did give $76,000,000 to publishers “on the assumption that a proportion of this money will be returned to authors” – of course said publishers could have used the money to have holidays in Barbados. CAL doesn’t bother to check who ends up with shares of the $76,000,000 so it’s anyone’s guess where it ends up.
The second article is by James Bradley who is an author and director of CAL . He claims that “much” of the $76,000,000 was distributed to authors, although I’m not sure how he would have any idea of how much it was – which is presumably why he used the word “much” instead of some other word with a clearer meaning such as “most“. He also notes that CAL invested $1,000,000 in “projects specifically designed to promote the development and dissemination of Australian writing“, which sounds nice until you consider the fact that none of the authors (apart from presumably the few who sit on the CAL board) had any say in the matter. Can I take a chunk of the $9,400,000 that is paid to CAL employees and invest it in something? If not then why not? If they can “invest” money that was owed to other people then why can’t I invest their salaries?
James also says “The issue of how well CAL serves rights-holders – and authors and artists in particular – is a vital one” which is remarkably silly. He is entirely ignoring the fact that some rights holders don’t want to be “served” by CAL at all. The fact that CAL can arbitrarily take money for other people’s work is an infringement on their rights. He further demonstrates his ignorance by saying “Without CAL and the licences we administer, users – educational institutions, government agencies and corporate organisations, to name just a few – would be required to seek permission every time they reproduced copyright material or run the risk of legal action for copyright infringement” – of course any educational institution can use Creative Commons licensed work .
I’ve previously written about the CK12 project to develop CC licensed text books for free use . There’s no reason why the same thing can’t be done for university text books. In the discussion following Claudine Chionh’s LUV talk titled “Humanities computing, Drupal and What I did on my holidays”  it was suggested that it should be possible to gain credit towards a post-graduate degree based on work done to share information – this could mean setting up a Drupal site and populating the database or it could mean contributing to CC licensed text books. Let’s face it, a good CC text book will be read by many more people than the typical conference proceedings!
James says that CAL is used “Instead of having to track down individual rights-holders every time they want to reproduce copyright material“. The correct solution to this problem would be to change the copyright law such that if a reasonable attempt to discover the rights-holder fails then work is deemed to be in the public domain. The solution to the problem of tracking down rights-holders is not to deny them their rights entirely and grant CAL the right to sub-license their work!
He also makes the ridiculous claim “Whereas in the age of the physical book schools and universities could have bought fewer books and made up the difference by using photocopies, it is now possible for an organisation to buy a single set of digital materials and reproduce them ad infinitum” which implies that CAL is the only thing saving the profits of authors from unrestricted digital copying. Of course as CAL seems to have no active enforcement mechanisms and they apparently charge a per-student fee they really have no impact on the issue of a single licensed copy being potentially used a million times – extra use apparently won’t provide benefits to the author and use in excess of the licensing scheme won’t be penalised.
He asks the rhetorical question “After all, why go to the expense of creating a textbook (or some form of digital course materials) if you are going to sell only a half-dozen copies to state education departments“. The answer is obvious to anyone who has real-world experience with multiple licensing schemes – you can sell one single copy and make a profit if the price is high enough. The smart thing for the education departments to do would be to pool their resources and pay text book companies for writing CC licensed texts (or releasing previously published texts under the CC). The average author of a text book would probably be very happy to earn $100,000 for their work, the editorial process probably involves a similar amount of work. So if the government was to offer $300,000 for the entire rights to a text book then I’m sure that there would be more than a few publishers tendering for the contract.
According to the CIA World Fact Book there are 2,871,482 people in Australia aged 0-14 , that means about 205,000 per year level. CAL charges $16 for each primary and secondary student so the government is paying about $3,280,000 every year per year level. Even in year 12 the number of text books used is probably not more than 10, so it seems to me that if all the money paid to CAL by schools in a single year was instead used to fund Creative Commons licensed text books then the majority of the school system would be covered! The universities have a much wider range of text books but they also have higher CAL fees of $40 per student. After cutting off the waste of taxpayer money on CAL fees for schools that money could be invested in the production of CC licensed university text books.