Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Backgrounder: Joining the Joint Committee on Reprography Reform

The League of Canadian Poets voted to join the new joint committee established by TWUC AGM’s motion to look into increased revenue, increased control and decreased administrative cost for writers at Canada’s reprographic mechanism, currently Access Copyright (AC) (See League motion post).

League members considered a lot of information before voting to join with other writers’ organizations to seek change in the current system. The new Payback system, introduced this past year has taken what was already a modest sum of $612 for repertoire writers and reduced it to a $176 base payment. Anything above this figure is considered a ‘supplementary’ payment.

After 23 years of waiting for a program designed to reward writers for their copyright, members receiving the base payment watched their income drop 71.3%. Overall, almost 80% of writers got less this year under Payback than last year. Looked at from another perspective: baseline poets and writers received less this year than a copyright lawyer makes in an hour.

It has been widely disseminated that AC staff are highly paid, for example, that the salary and annualized benefits of the executive Director, Maureen Cavan, are reported in the $300,000 range. An income of this category typically carries an additional severance package of $300,000 to $450,000. That means that the ED salary is equivalent to 1704.5 baseline poets, or virtually all the poets in Canada. League members received this information soberly.

What writers want is 50% of revenue. Other systems deliver this. The United Kingdom does and this is why the TWUC motion mentions working toward instituting their system here in Canada. Were the UK system in place in Canada, writers would have received $16.9 million in 2010. This represents an increase of 444.7% in creator Payback cheques, or a base payment of $782.74. Writers would like this money.

While revenue for writers has been disappointing, there is another side to the story. Administrative costs have been equally disappointing. AC spent $8.7 million on itself last year. Its estimate of what it gave to writers is $3.8 million. That means that for every dollar sent to a creator, AC spent $2.28 on itself. Writers find that pretty annoying. As AC has refused to give out administrative salaries, an observer has to estimate them by considering Australia, where their system is far more transparent. Read what is public knowledge there:

Comparable systems have much lower cost. The UK for instance has a 9% rate; Copibec in Quebec has a 13% rate. But AC’s ratio of cost to total revenue is 25.8%. This is another reason for changing the reprographic system here. If costs were cut in half to $4.35 million, that could more than double what writers receive - 114.5% more money.

The League vote was unanimous, with zero nays and one abstemption. League members voted to work with other writers’ organizations, and those writers with no AC representation for a better financial deal, more control and reduced costs. The League and its members strongly support collective licensing, but the AGM mood was that the current system needs change.

The benefit of working together is better information for all members of the signatory groups. There has been little independent information revealed to AC members. In fact, the information revealed has been quite the opposite. The annual report for 2010 has a section where one Payback author reports how great the new system is:

But the report does not contain any direct information on Payback payments – the $3.8 million figure, for example. This figure was derived from the Creator Co-chair Penney Komb, mentioning it in an information dialogue sometime later, along with a series of bar graphs that illustrate what writers received from Payback. They were not included in the Annual Report; nor were writers informed that they receive only 11.3% of revenue. There is good reason for this because such information does not reflect positively on AC. But they are examples of what independent, arms-length, writer-centred research turns up, and information that will be in a future post. It is also the kind of information that joint committee members would share in their decision-making process.

In summary, the main reason for joining the joint committee for writers and their organizations is: more money, more control and reduced costs.

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