Along with the selection of auditors, approval of the minutes and other routines, the Access Copyright annual general meeting in Toronto on Friday, March 3, had two items of particular interest to creators. Let’s take them in parts.
The Access Copyright board announced it would establish a fact-finding commission to investigate and report on the distribution of royalties to rightsholders.
How the money is shared out is a vital concern of collective licensing agencies. Particularly in those shared by producers and creators — who are normally engaged in buy low/sell high economic competition — there is often a certain tension over the principles by which money is paid out. Since the amounts of money can be substantial, it’s easy for either side to doubt the other’s ability to be dispassionate about the application of those principles. As a result, such disputes can be difficult to resolve.
Many collectives find that resorting to independent arbitration is a useful way to prevent money disputes from festering. Access Copyright, however, has made no substantial changes in its distribution rules since the early days and minimal revenues of the early 1990s. Nor has it ever had an arbitration process, although its by-laws foresee the need for one.
Access Copyright’s newly announced fact-finding process is a response to a proposal several creator organizations made to the agency last summer. The creator organizations have argued that Access Copyright’s distribution of royalties need to be made with more attention to collective-licensing principles, more transparency, and more precision in linking payments to exposure to copying. These claims upon the agencies are not new. In recent years Access Copyright’s lack of action on them has been threatening the confidence of creators and their organizations in the work of the collective. (I write with some rueful knowledge of this, as a member of a couple of the creator organizations and a board member of Access Copyright.)
The successful operation of collective licensing agencies is increasingly important to Canadian writers, composers, performers, and visual artists. We need them to represent our rights in our work and also to provide us easy, prompt, fair access to copyright works we may need to license ourselves. And we need to trust them in handling the money they raise and distribute. Ensuring that Canadian collectives match or exceed the best practices of collectives here and around the world is a vital part of collective licensing in Canada. Access Copyright’s new fact-finder may play an important role in that.