I live in Whitby, Conservative stronghold and home to our current Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty. He’s our MP. And I figure, whatever the outcome of the election Federally, he’s pretty safe.
But I don’t know who I’m voting for yet. Because the issue that had me worried before the election has kind of vanished, and nobody’s talking about it. Let’s face it, copyright law isn’t exactly interesting. Not the sexy sort of issue that makes headlines.
But after the election, it’ll be back. So here’s the main body of the letter that I just wrote to Mr. Flaherty.
And I promise: I will not make a habit of getting political on this blog. But this one’s for the children’s writers among us.
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My letter is about a bill that I expect will resurface in one form or another after the election. Bill C-32.
I’ve been a resident of Whitby for nearly all of my life… and I have the wonderful fortune to be in the early stages of a career doing what I love.
I write books for children. My third was just published, and I have two more books under contract for publication in Spring 2012. I have several other manuscripts in the works, including a juvenile historical novel set in Whitby in the 1880s.
In particular, I write books for reluctant readers and for the hi-low (high interest, low vocabulary) market. These are books for children who are not reading at grade level. For example, a boy in sixth grade might be reading at a third grade level. These books give him an opportunity to read stories written with his age group in mind, but written at a reading level that he can access. The idea is to provide an enjoyable reading experience, which will hopefully encourage him to read more in the future.
Needless to say, one of the places that my books find a home is in school libraries.
There was a clause in Bill C-32 that established “educational use” as one of the legitimate cases where a work could be copied without penalty. I believe that “private study” was another. For myself and for other creators of books, art and other media for children, this represents a real threat.
I’m not Margaret Atwood or Kenneth Oppel. I’m not J.K. Rowling. I will not, in all likelihood, rise to fortune through writing. I make approximately 8% of the cover price on each book sold, and a share of that goes to my agent. My books are priced in the neighbourhood of $10-$13, which means I make around a dollar each time one is sold.
I doubt that anyone who writes books for children is in it for the money. I do this because I love it and because I think it matters. But I cannot afford to give my books away, either. My understanding of Bill C-32 was that a school, or even a school board, could buy one copy of my book and then photocopy it (or, in this age of technology, scan it and make electronic copies) for use throughout the school system. Or, if we take this example to an extreme, that one copy of the book could be copied once and shared electronically through Canada’s education systems.
Can you see how a prospective reimbursement of one dollar for the many hours of researching, writing and rewriting a book, not to mention the time spent learning the craft of writing, would be detrimental to any writer’s career?
I feel optimistic about my writing. I am doing well. By this time next year, I’ll have published five books, and I have several other manuscripts close to a submission-ready state. I am building a career in baby steps. I have even had the good fortune to receive a grant from the Ontario Arts’ Council, for which I am extremely grateful.
But in truth, I’d rather earn my money by selling books than have it come from grants. I’m old-fashioned that way. The grant helps me get started, and as I said, I’m extremely grateful. But Canada needs to move toward an economy in which artists and creative types can support themselves. Bill C-32 was in direct opposition to that.
There is value in having new material, written by Canadians, in the school system. Kids want to read about characters that reflect them and their values. A body of literature set in the 1980s, before cell phones and computers changed the world, will lose immediacy. Yes, there are core values and classic works of literature that should never be forgotten, but for some children, the easiest stories to connect with are contemporary ones. By making it possible for writers to continue to write, you ensure that readers, and the teachers who work so hard and care so deeply about literacy, have the materials they need for a positive learning experience.
When the time comes to reconsider Copyright legislation, my sincere hope is that you will keep in mind that you are balancing the needs of many people. And I hope that you will keep in mind, Mr. Flaherty, that some of those people are creators.