CAL – Self-Serving and Useless

Me Thinking about Copyright in front of Le Pensevr

Brendan Scott linked to a couple of articles about CAL (the Copyright Agency Limited) [1]. I have previously written about CAL and the way that they charge organisations for the work of others without their consent [2]. 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 [3]. 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 [4]. 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 [5].

I’ve previously written about the CK12 project to develop CC licensed text books for free use [6]. 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” [7] 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 [8], 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.

9 comments to CAL – Self-Serving and Useless

  • john

    Its hard to be certain of the exact amount but—a significant amount of CALs collections are ‘uneconomic’ or ‘ impossible’ to deliver. CALS fixed transaction cost is of the order of $50, a lot of lesser lights never know about ‘their’ $49 dollars in the basement of CAL. And CAL also can not make
    payments to the 20 million odd Australian citizens who are not members of CAL.

    Because these moneys are not distributed they are not quite exactly reported. After the statuary years of limbo these undeliverable moneys are redistributed to known members or paid to ‘cultural’ programs. (CAL has recently announced a new “CAL-Direct” program which might address some of these problems.)

    CAL is not a real copyright agency ; copy-right is an “individual right of control of usage” -CAL is a power of groups in this case an Unelected Qango with tax-like collection/distribution powers , that has for years handed out what is ultimately public money to whoever & whatever. That CAL has stated good intentions dos not change the undemocratic ,unelected and opaque ,nature of this use of public money.
    The universities have had a long running issues with CAL over the creation of the lists of names & usage rates, that CAL uses to calculate % distributions to individual right holders; not only dos CAL get the publishers to do the distribution work but It also gets the universities to do much of the samplings, maths, excreta, needed to create the distribution lists of names based on frequency of use.

    Obviously a half decent Google like search algorithm , and a login register/bank funds transfer system could replace CALs supposed main function – but perhaps that is not what CAL is really for.”

  • john

    Its interesting the balence between a complete outright first sale price and a payment based on the total number of copies sold over the duration of the copy-right.
    Copyright is a good way of paying for things with a potentially long or unknown market life and especially things where the ultimate usefulness/value of the product is initially unknown, the public market can best decide this value.
    Think that neither of these qualities apply to most textbooks and other related education materials : they are mostly out of date within a few years, and the size of the potential market is fairly definable: the number of students taking that course .

  • etbe

    John: Many text books do not go out of date. I think that since the slide-rule was obsoleted by the calculator and decimal currency and weights was adopted (by everyone other than Americans) there has been no noteworthy change in maths for anything other than the more advanced university subjects.

    The needs for history texts change periodically, but that doesn’t require significant changes to text books. Just add a chapter at the end with new stuff. CC text books could be written to significant length with the aim of automatically producing condensed versions on demand, EG history books could have details of multiple regions that could be deleted for regions other than the target.

    I challenge you to name a subject which inherently requires significant non-incremental changes to text books.

    PS I have a lot of old text books that I occasionally refer to dozens of years after they were published.

  • john

    Any text book on for an example, on the classification of ‘the genus eucalyptus’, of only a few years ago is out of date. The area of Clade is radically (almost on a weekly basis) changing, Clade were determined by ‘flower’ : phenotype, the ability to actually see the genotype is creating rapid radical changes in the science of ‘classification by origin’.

    The point about text books not changing is as much about the capital cost of ordering and printing 1 million copies for a school system as anything else.
    Re writes & incremental changes are work and would have to be paid for.
    Having known a few authors of academic texts the contracts offered by publishers are very very one-sided, publishers get all the economic rights and the author gets the ‘prestige’ . Outright first sale could be much more of a problem for publishing houses than for for authors.

    I was only suggesting that there are many ways that an author can get paid, formost the hope that their book will become the much re-read classic is a forlorn hope

  • john

    Russel Im fairly conservative , have no desire to see the texts change every five min.
    Have You read an Essay BY Steven J Gould about the prelude to Swifts ” battle of the Books” like Swift and Aesop I tend to favour the bringer of “honey and wax”.

  • john

    more examples
    A lot of skills that were mostly learnt on the job (and at Tafe at night) are now academic subjects. Text books for things like Nursing, Aircraft engine maintenance and also Tax law can be out of date before they are even published. In the past ten years Tax law has gone from about 2-3 thou pages to about 9 thou and counting. Case-law book libraries were one of the first to go totally digital . There are a lot of placebo/certification courses( for example just about anything ending in ‘X’ + ‘studies’ )where the texts can change as often as funding permits.

  • etbe

    John: Regarding the classification of plants and animals, once we get the genetic tests done on them all the classification will stabilise. So this is just a phase of change in one area. Sure there are lots of disciplines with similar changes but I think most of them will have changes that are quite rare. In terms of the overall field of botany this is a small area and most texts won’t need to change much if at all. Also if you had a set of electronic text books that reference each other you could have automated alerts, so if a text on classification changes then the database entry for a botany text which has a foot note on classification could trigger an alert to the relevant person to rewrite the section in question.

    Incremental changes are work, but don’t necessarily need to be paid for. Incremental changes in Wikipedia work quite well. Someone who was editing a botany text book would probably accept a change from a professor in a related field at a prestigious university with little need for review.

    I don’t think that texts will change that often. When scientific discoveries are made (such as your example about genetic sequencing) changes MUST be made and any format that permits the texts to change with the science is a good thing!

    I haven’t read that essay, can you provide a link?

    Tax law needs to be reformed and made simple. If things change so rapidly that printing takes long enough to make the text outdated then a wiki is the only solution.

  • john

    Over all I agree, regarding traditional academic text areas and tax law.

    The mapping of genome of life is a very large project, there are millions of beetle species alone, it could be a while before things settle down.

    And university courses in things like homeopathy… well mushrooms.

    This is not the essay but it is another piece By Gould on Swifts satire:
    At the start of the tale there is a debate between a honey bee: representing old wisdom and a spider who has out of his own body( and a pile of dead flies) woven a impressive big new web, the spider represents ‘new Knowledge’.
    The debate is judged by Aesop who awards the Bee the winners laurel , because the harms no one , she flits from flower to flower and brings us; “honey and wax” and what could be more useful this sometimes dark and bitter world than “sweetness and light”.

    The phrase later acquired an recursive ironic usage. Thus when Yeats was writing in the time of dark bitter Civil war in Ireland could not use it . Instead he wrote this

    We had fed the heart on fantasies,
    The heart’s grown brutal on the fare;
    More substance in our enmities
    Than in our love; O honey-bees,
    Come build your nests in the empty house of the stare

  • etbe

    Brendan Scott wrote the above post referencing this one. Among other things he points out that there are a large number of unfinished and unpaid works that are out there giving benefit to no-one.