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Copyright Agency takes universities to tribunal

On Monday, the Copyright Agency commenced legal action against Australia’s universities. The text and image license provider lodged a claim with the Copyright Tribunal – administered by the Federal Court – after negotiations with universities over 2019 license fees failed.

They claim the current sum they’re paid – $32.5 million annually, representing around 0.1 per cent of annual university expenditure – is inadequate.

The universities, represented by peak body Universities Australia, dispute this. “Universities pay hundreds of millions of dollars directly each year to publishers and copyright owners and that amount continues to grow,” Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson said.

“Copyright Agency’s proposal is akin to saying that universities should pay twice for the content they are using.

“Universities are publicly funded institutions that have an obligation to ensure that public money is spent wisely.”

Copyright Agency chief executive Adam Suckling argued that a fee increase is warranted to ensure publishers are supported.

“Licence fees support the Australian educational publishing industry to continue to produce high-quality educational material,” he said.

This line of reasoning is often raised by proponents of closed (paid) as opposed to open (free) access to knowledge, who claim that unlicensed content can of be poorer quality. Yet open access proponents, which include the ARC (which mandates the research it funds is open access), point to the vast profits made by publishers. For example, according to Paywall, a documentary about the open-access movement released this year, publisher Elsevier makes profit margins of 35 to 40 per cent. In 2017, its revenue was 2.48 billion pounds.

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