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Richmond author among group demanding change in publishing industry

Canadian authors have seen a 79 per cent decline in payment from royalties.
Sonya Lalli
Sonya Lalli is Richmond's newest Writer-in-Residence.

Richmond’s newest writer-in-residence is concerned Canada’s Copyright Act is causing Canadian writers to see pay cuts, while educational institutions are copying their literature for free.

Sonya Lalli, who is also a board member with advocacy group Access Copyright, is one of dozens of artists calling on the government to act on its Budget 2022 promise to amend the Copyright Act to protect Canada’s creators and to sustain the educational publishing industry.

When the Copyright Act was amended in 2012, it allowed educational institutions to copy literature materials for free, causing writers to lose hundreds of millions of dollars to unregulated educational copying of published works.

Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland announced in April that Budget 2022 will extend the term of copyright protection in Canada by 20 years and to make sure writers receive fair remuneration.

According to Statistics Canada, Canadian writers have suffered almost an 80 per cent decline in payment from copying royalties – more than $190-million lost – since the Copyright Act was amended in 2012.

Between 2014 and 2017, writers saw a 27 per cent decrease in average income from writing, while the average wage for all other workers increased 6.2 per cent in the same period.

“Copyright royalties have plummeted for creators since the Copyright Act was amended in 2012, and over 600 million pages from books and other resources have been copied by schools and post-secondary institutions for free,” said Lalli.

“This has reduced the overall income of many Canadian creators, risking their livelihoods and their ability to contribute to the rich, evolving tapestry of our culture.”

Lalli told the Richmond News that if the Copyright Act is not amended and if education institutions continue to copy literature from authors “freely and unfairly,” Canadian publishers may lose “financial incentive” to invest in and publish works from Canadian authors.

“Our country is rich with diversity, and we need to teach Canadian children and students our stories and histories,” she said, adding that Canadian stories are important in the country’s education system.

“Like many others, I fear that in the future fewer Canadian resources will be published, and students will be forced to rely on non-Canadian materials to learn about their country.”

The Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC) recently reported authors who identified as BIPOC, LGBTQ2+ and/or disabled, encountered greater barriers in their careers than writers from more dominant demographic groups.

This includes having to work harder to be treated the same as dominant demographic groups, being excluded from work or networking events and losing opportunities to other authors who are less qualified as writers, reads the TWUC report.

It further states that BIPOC authors were underrepresented in titles being published despite having received recognition in award shortlists and literary festivals.

While Lalli said her work is not typically affected by the copyright royalties pay cut, it doesn’t mean she can stand by to see other writers having their careers and daily lives affected.

“I write commercial fiction, and although my books are not the type typically copied by educational institutions – and therefore the current copyright climate has not presently affected my income – I feel strongly that creators deserve to be paid fairly for their work,” said Lalli, adding that she fears the voices of future writers may not get heard.

“Moreover, independent publishers, (who) are often hugely supportive of emerging and BIPOC authors, have been the hardest hit by the 2012 changes to the Copyright Act.”

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