Jill MacLean is a member of the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia, a published poet, and an award-winning children’s author. On May 7, 2018, she attended a Copyright Hearing and Review of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology (INDU) open mic, held at the Halifax Marriott Harbourfront Hotel. In response to what she heard that day, she wrote the following post on her experiences with copyright law as a Canadian author.
From 2008 to 2013 I had three middle-grade and two young adult novels published, all of them set either in Newfoundland or Nova Scotia.
These five books collectively won four awards and were nominated for many more. From 2009 to 2015, from Vancouver Island to St John’s, I visited schools and libraries and attended several of the Ontario Library Association’s annual Harbourfront gatherings – 3000 children bussed in daily, many of whom had actually read and voted on one of my books. I also did eight presentations at a Saskatchewan literacy conference that had brought in 2000 students. In Newfoundland I went to two small schools who’d never had writer in the classroom.
As a writer I was, in other words, instrumental in bringing Canadian content into the classroom, and I still feel honoured and privileged to have done so.
The average income for a Canadian writer is $13,000 a year, about half the average minimum wage. We don’t get EI, paid vacations, sick leave or a salary.
During the early years, and in addition to royalties, Access Copyright was a reliable source of income. This is no longer true.
My 2017 payback cheque was 26% of the amount of my 2012 payback cheque.
As I understand it, the reason is that since 2012, many in the education sector – including those teaching in universities and schools from kindergarten to grade 12 – have interpreted the notion of “fair dealing” to justify free copying, even though licencing agreements are in place to ensure fair compensation to Canadian writers and publishers. According to an article published in Quill & Quire in February 2018, “Access Copyright estimates that the sector copies 150 million pages of copyright-protected works each year.”
Despite the recent Federal Court of Canada ruling against York University, provincial ministries of education and school boards across the country have now launched a lawsuit against Access Copyright.
In 2016 one of my young adult novels was chosen by the Nova Scotia education department for the school curriculum. Yet members of the same Nova Scotia government are participating in this lawsuit, even though, should the lawsuit win, the province’s writers – including myself – will continue to have their copyright abrogated and will earn even less in the future.