Access Copyright and AUCC Agree to “Model License”: But what does it Mean?

Access Copyright and AUCC  (Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada) have announced they have agreed to the terms of a model license. The releases, which are substantially similar, indicate the license will cover print and digital formats, the annual cost will be set at $26.00 per FTE per year, and that the term of the license will run until the end of 2015. On the surface, this all appears similar to the earlier deals AC reached with the University of Toronto and the University of Western Ontario which would run through 2013 at the apparent rate of $27.50. (I say “apparent rate” because it was later learned that an addendum, erroneously marked as “confidential” effectively had cut the rate in about half for UWO over the 3 year term).

The announcements also state that “[o]ver the course of the next six months a survey methodology will be designed jointly to gather reliable bibliographic data and volume of usage trending data to allow Access Copyright to make fair distribution of royalties to its affiliates and to assist in establishing appropriate future licence rates.”

As in the case of the UWO and UT deals, it is troubling that AUCC would agree to such a provision without greater specificity in terms of how the survey will be conducted. While the release goes on to make the claim that the survey “will be designed to minimize the administrative burden on both parties, in particular academic staff and students, and will respect academic freedom, privacy and the obligations of universities under collective agreements with faculty and staff”, this assurance is of little comfort without specific binding contractual language to back it up. If  the model license includes the overbroad  definitions of “copy” and “course collections” which that were in the tariff and also in the UT and UWO contracts, then this issue will remain a major concern.

Other major concerns with the proposed tariff that were replicated in the UWO and UT agreements were that the scope of the permissions granted in the license did not give the universities much they did not already have by way of rights under existing copyright law, and that the agreements failed to adequately specify the scope of AC’s repertoire.

It is also important to emphasize that the agreement for a “model license” is just that, it is a model. It has no binding effect on its own, but has to be ratified on an institution-by-institution basis. Given the collusion that was underlying the UT and UWO agreements upon which this “model” is presumably based, individual institutions need to be very cautious at this point. Before signing on to this “model license” in a hasty manner, individual colleges and universities need to engage in broad internal consultation and also obtain independent advice about the contract terms.

While a full analysis of the terms of the contract will follow here and elsewhere, it is a bad sign that the initial celebratory press releases from the parties did not link to the full text. Nor is it clear how the sum of $26 was determined (one would think the study would occur before not after setting the rate). No doubt there will be much discussion on these issues as more details become available [see posting by Ariel Katz]. But as an immediate matter, AC and AUCC need to publicly post the entire set of documents making up this “model license.”