Open for collaboration—panel discussion (Open Access Week)

The second half of the Open for Collaboration event (I summarized the first half earlier) was intended as a panel discussion—but was more like five jam-packed mini-presentations—about not only open access but also open education and open source software. The theme of the evening was, “Is it time for Canada to implement a unified open strategy for higher education?”

Juan Pablo Alperin, Publishing @ SFU and Public Knowledge Project (PKP)

Juan Pablo Alperin is a faculty member in the Canadian Institute for Studies in Publishing and has worked with PKP for almost ten years.

“Open access to knowledge doesn’t just happen,” said Alperin. “And we need to do more. Open access is only one piece of the puzzle. We have to teach openness—to get students to understand what openness is—and we have to teach the practice of openness.” These students will become future faculty who are completely comfortable in openness and will teach it to the next generation.

Alperin’s guide to teaching openness in five easy steps:

  1. Make all the readings open access.
  2. Have students annotate them openly. Using a tool like, students can comment on an article and ask each other questions online.
  3. Have students publish all their work. Alperin asks his students to get into the habit of making their scholarly work public by publishing their work anywhere online, whether it’s on a blogging platform like Blogger or WordPress, the course website, or an open-access post-publication journal like The Winnower.
  4. Give students feedback through open annotation.
  5. Have students openly review each other.

An optional sixth step is, if your teaching involves data, to use open data.

“The number of students that would have done this on their own? Probably zero,” said Alperin. But the number of students who have resisted these steps is also zero. “Students don’t have a problem with doing this,” said Alperin. “Just get them into the habit of putting their knowledge out there.”

David Ascher, VP of Product for the Mozilla Foundation

David Ascher has been at Mozilla for seven years, where he manages software projects (other than Firefox) and tries to make them as widely available as possible. Mozilla is a global nonprofit with a thousand employees and tens of thousands of volunteers, and its mission is to promote an open internet. “Mozilla has a policy of open by default,” said Ascher. Most of its programs are open for participation and critique. “We have an imperfect view of the world,” he said. “And open drives many decision-making processes and lets the world tell us why we’re wrong. Open keeps us honest.” Part of Mozilla’s work involves pushing for open standards and open policies.

One of its projects most relevant to open access are Open Badges, a micro-credentialing system that allows people to earn badges for what they learn and display these badges online as a way to show their set of skills. Any organization can use the free software and open technical standard to create and issue badges to people who have learned from them. The ever-growing list of organizations issuing badges is diverse and includes 3d GameLab, the Dallas Museum of Art, NASA, and NOAA Planet Stewards, among many others. “A lot of good work went into that,” said Ascher, referring to the Open Badges initiative. “It pushes students to learn throughout their lives, and there’s a rich community built around promoting badges.”

“For an institution, teacher, and students who get open, it can work beautifully, collaboratively,” said Ascher. “If it’s forced through because of policy, the hierarchy of badge systems reflects the hierarchy of the institution’s power structure.”

Ascher touched on the Open Source movement, which he said “got stuck on licensing and software distribution as a topic and lost track of the social, societal impact of that work.” Powerful open source software is behind a lot of what tech giants like IBM and Google have developed. These companies “follow the letter of the law,” said Ascher, “but the reality is that people don’t interact with open source software. They interact with online products and services.”

“IBM embraced open source and used it strategically,” said Ascher. Meanwhile, players in the Open Source movement have spent a lot of time fighting one another and have missed opportunities to advance the movement’s core goals.

Clint Lalonde, senior manager of open education at BCcampus

Since 2013 Clint Lalonde has been with BCcampus, which manages the Open Textbook Project on behalf of the provincial government. Open textbooks are a subset of open educational resources (OERs), which are teaching resources with Creative Commons licensing and can be freely copied, shared, modified, and reused.

However, “we can’t assume that there’s a common understanding of what it means to be open,” said Lalonde. For example, a lot of MOOCs (massive open online courses)—such as those at Coursera—have open registration but are not openly licensed. There are still copyright restrictions on the material used in those courses.

Fourteen countries around the world have made commitments to OER, said Lalonde, with the view that “publicly funded resources should be openly licensed resources. We paid for something—we should make that something as widely used as possible.”

What complicates developing a unified open strategy is that whereas in other countries, post-secondary education is considered a national responsibility, in Canada that responsibility lies with the provinces. A promising step forward is that BC, Alberta, and Saskatchewan have signed a memorandum of understanding for sharing OER.

Open textbooks have thus far saved BC students more than $1 million over the past two years. “Students using OER are doing as well, maybe even better, than students using textbooks from publishers. It would be nice to make OER the default, not the exception.:

Inba Kehoe, Copyright Officer and Scholarly Communication Librarian at University of Victoria Libraries

Inba Kehoe helped create the BCOER Librarians group, which began in 2013 with the aim of building a community of practice to address the question, “Why not open?” The group shared knowledge, participated in hackfests, created guides and posters, and developed a rubric for librarians reviewing OER resources. All of the discussions are open and take place online through forums such as wikis.

At the national level, the Canadian Association of Research Libraries is pushing toward sustainable scholarly publishing, and within the organization there’s a working group dedicated to open access issues.

Internationally, the SHERPA/RoMEO database at the University of Nottingham stores publishers’ policies about self-archiving and open-access repositories. Librarians can add to the database by looking into publishers’ policies and providing the evidence to RoMEO. “Canadian publishers are not well represented,” said Kehoe. “Let’s get our publishers’ policies into this database.”

By checking the member of the Canadian Association of Learned Journals against the list of journals in the RoMEO database, Kehoe and her collaborators hope to figure out which ones are missing and start collecting the data to fill in the holes.

Back at her home institution, Kehoe oversees the Journal Publishing Service, which uses Open Journal Systems to publish twenty-eight open-access journals. “Three-quarters of them are student journals,” said Kehoe. “Students learn the publishing process and learn about open access.” Kehoe also handles faculty requests to publish research and teaching resources, as well as open access books. “We work with the bookstore, which has a print-on-demand machine,” said Kehoe. “And I ask for research funds for the editorial work and design,” which usually runs from about $2,500 to $3,000.

Rosemary (Rosie) Redfield, UBC Department of Zoology

Since 2006, Rosie Redfield has run the RRResearch blog, an open science blog. She proposed a few top-down efforts that might help openness:

1. Pressure faculty to produce open resources wherever possible

“We need policies in place to make faculty justify it if they want to work with a publisher,” said Redfield.

2. Set top-down expectations that researchers will use OER by default

“There’s inertia among faculty about using open textbooks. Put in top-down policies to make faculty explain why” they decide to use non-OA textbooks. “The material on OpenStax is completely free, and it’s just as good.”

3. Support faculty when they have copyright issues with open-access publications

Open-access publishing requires authors to accept a CC BY licence, which means that anyone can use the material, even for commercial purposes, as long as the original author is credited. “Unscrupulous publishers like Apple Academic Press will take open articles, repackage them in a glossy book, and sell the book for more than $100 online. The people who wrote the articles have no idea this is being done,” said Redfield. Often the original publication is not mentioned. “To the scientific community, it looks like the researcher is trying to self-plagiarize. Authors can’t take these presses to court. Journals don’t own copyright so can’t take them to court. We need centralized support to defend researchers’ interests when we use OA.”

4. Encourage faculty to assign coursework that goes behind the classroom

Make open access the expectation for students, not the exception. Get students used to having their work be open. Whether the work involves adding pages to Wikipedia or speaking at an Ignite event, which archives its five-minute talks on YouTube, “set an expectation that the work that students are doing for their grade are producing benefits outside the classroom.”

5. Help libraries escape the clutches of journal publishers.

Two major barriers to OA are that “big academic publishers combine strong and weak journals into exorbitantly priced bundles, and researchers protest when they lose free access to their favourite (often obscure) journal.” A possible solution is a nationwide program that gives all faculty and students at Canadian institutions free access to all paywalled journal articles.

Accessible documents for people with print disabilities

In prepping a PubPro 2015 talk about editorial and production considerations when creating accessible documents, I ran into information about both the Centre for Equitable Library Access (CELA) and the National Network for Equitable Library Service (NNELS). Confused about the differences between them, I emailed NNELS for clarification, and librarian Sabina Iseli-Otto wrote back: “Would it be alright to call you? I know it’s getting late in the day but 5 minutes on the phone would save 20 minutes of typing (seriously).”

That five-minute chat turned into an impromptu phone interview, and Iseli-Otto gave me permission to share with you what I’ve learned. (The information in most of this post I got from her, but I’m also including a bit of what I found through my own research for my talk.)

Print disabilities and copyright

Print disabilities include:

  • blindness or visual impairments,
  • physical impairments that prevent a person from holding or manipulating print materials, and
  • cognitive impairments, like ADHD, dyslexia, or learning or memory problems due to a brain injury, that impede reading and understanding.

Although colourblindness isn’t considered a print disability, documents should be created with colourblindness in mind.

About 10 percent (a conservative estimate) of Canadians have a print disability, but only about 5 percent of published works are accessible. Most people with print disabilities aren’t using public libraries.

Section 32(1) of Canada’s Copyright Act spells out an exception to copyright that lets people with print disabilities, and those acting on their behalf, create and use alternate formats of copyrighted print materials (with the exception of large-print books and commercially available titles).

Accessible formats

The following are some of the accessible formats for people with print disabilities:

  • E-text: plain text (.txt), rich text (.rtf), Word (.docx)
  • EPUB 2 & 3
  • Accessible PDFs
  • MP3s
  • large-print
  • Braille

E-text, EPUB, and accessible PDFs can be read by screen readers such as JAWS and VoiceOver. Not all PDFs are accessible—Adobe offers a way to check a document’s accessibility and has guidelines for creating accessible PDFs.


CELA formed about a year ago following a change to the funding structure at CNIB (formerly the Canadian National Institute for the Blind). CNIB had, over the past hundred years, amassed Canada’s largest collection of alternate-format books in its library, and CELA, with the support of the Canadian Urban Libraries Council, took over administrating this collection. The CNIB library still offers services to existing clients but will refer new clients to their local public library to access CELA’s services.

The shift of oversight from CNIB to CELA will hopefully allow more people to discover and use this extensive collection. Although it was always available to everyone with print disabilities, given that it was under the purview of CNIB, people who didn’t have visual impairments may not have realized that they could access it.

CELA has also partnered with Bookshare, an American online library for people with print disabilities. Rather than owning its content, Bookshare operates on more of a licensing model, controlling pricing and the licensing fees.


NNELS is also about a year old, with a lean staff of only four people, and, unlike CELA and Bookshare, is funded exclusively by provincial governments, which gives it more transparency. It has a much smaller collection but owns perpetual rights to everything in it. NNELS takes patron requests and works directly with publishers to add to their collection. Nova Scotia helped negotiate a fixed rate for NNELS with publishers in the Atlantic provinces, and Saskatchewan has funded an initiative to create accessible EPUBs for all Saskatchewan books, which will be added to the NNELS collection. Whereas CELA focuses on partnerships with public libraries, NNELS also works with public schools and universities—for example, it has a content-exchange agreement with the Crane Library at UBC .

Recent policy changes relevant to people with print disabilities

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act

According to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA),

Organizations will have to…provide accessible formats and communications supports as quickly as possible and at no additional cost when a person with a disability asks for them.

The law was enacted in 2005, but the regulations for information and communications didn’t come into effect until 2012, when all sectors had to make all emergency procedures and public safety information accessible upon request. For other types of communications, the AODA requirements were phased in beginning in 2013 for the public sector and beginning in 2013 and 2015 for private and non-profit sectors. (Respectively, I think? The website doesn’t make that bit clear.) If you work with Ontario businesses, you may be called on to provide accessible communications.

The Marrakesh Treaty

The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works by Visually Impaired Persons and Persons with Print Disabilities laid out exceptions to copyright so that signatories could freely import and export accessible content, obviating the need to duplicate efforts to convert works to accessible formats in different countries. Although Canada was instrumental in writing the treaty, it hasn’t ratified or signed it. However, in its 2015 budget, unveiled last week, the Government of Canada announced that it would accede to the treaty, meaning that people with print disabilities could soon have access to a lot more content.

Publishers and accessible content

I asked Sabina Iseli-Otto how publishers can make her job easier.

“We’d prefer to get EPUB files or accessible PDFs directly from the publisher. Actually, I’ve been really, pleasantly surprised at how often publishers will say yes when we ask for them. I mean, they can always say no—they’re doing it out of the goodness of their hearts—but it saves public funds if they send us those files directly.”

If a publisher refuses to provide accessible files, the copyright exception still applies, which means that NNELS would still be able to create an accessible format, but it would have to:

  1. acquire a hard copy,
  2. scan in the pages,
  3. run optical character recognition (OCR) on the scans,
  4. clean up the text file (e.g., deleting running headers and footers),
  5. proof the text.

“More than anything,” Iseli-Otto said, “we want to hear back quickly” from publishers, regardless of what they decide.

I asked if the files NNELS provides to patrons have digital right management (DRM) on them. “No,” she said, “but we make it very clear to them that if they abuse them that they’re putting our whole operation in jeopardy. Some of them appreciate having the access so much that they’re actually quite protective of their files.”

Our conversation had focused on books. What about periodicals and grey literature? “There’s certainly demand for it,” said Iseli-Otto. “We’d love to do more of that. And I’d like to turn your question around: what can we do for publishers to make it easier to collaborate with us? I’m not sure how to build those relationships.”

(Can you guess who I’ve invited to PubPro 2016?)

Publishers who’ve been in business for longer than a decade will recognize the steps NNELS has to take to create accessible formats from a print-only book: they’re identical to what publishers have to do if they want to reissue a backlist title that has no retrievable digital files. Could Canadian publishers partner with an organization dedicated to creating accessible formats so that, in exchange for digitizing the backlist for publishers, the organization could add those files to its collection at no additional cost?

Editorial, design, and production considerations for creating accessible files

In my PubPro 2015 talk, I mentioned a few things publishers should keep in mind through the editorial and production process so that the output will be accessible—especially since having to retrofit an existing document to adhere to accessibility standards is more labour intensive and expensive than producing an accessible file from the outset. I focused mostly on the effect of editing and production on screen readers.

Style considerations

Screen readers will not always read all symbols. The Deque Blog has a summary of how three of the most popular screen readers interpret different symbols. (It’s a bit out of date but still a good place to start; thanks to Ashley Bischoff for that link.) Testing on VoiceOver, I found that although the screen reader is smart enough to read “Henry VIII” as “Henry the eighth,” “Chapter VIII” as “chapter eight,” and “World War II” and “World War two,” it reads each letter in “WWII” as if it were an initialism. And it reads 12,000 as “twelve thousand” but “12 000” as “twelve zero zero zero.” I also found that it doesn’t read the en dash before a numeral if the dash is used as a minus sign, saying “thirty-four degrees” for “–34°.”  It’s best to use the actual minus sign symbol − (U+2112), which my version of VoiceOver reads as “minus sign.” The same goes for the letter x used in place of the real multiplication symbol × (U+00D7). My version of VoiceOver doesn’t read a tilde before a numeral, so ~8 mL would be “eight millilitres” instead of  the intended “approximately eight millilitres.”

In any case, if you’re editing and deciding between styles, why not choose the most accessible?

Language considerations

Plain language best practices apply here:

  • chunk text and use heading styles,
  • break up long, complex sentences, and
  • aim for a natural, conversational style.

Headings and short chunks of text offer context and digestible content to the listener. Screen readers are actually already quite adept at putting the stress on the right syllables depending on whether a word like reject is used as a verb or noun—when the word is in a short sentence. It can get confused in longer sentences.

Image concerns

For images:

  • Offer alt text—text that is rendered if the image cannot be seen—for substantive images but not decorative ones. (Add an alt attribute in the code, but leave it blank—i.e., alt = “”—or the screen reader will read the filename. You can add alt text directly in InDesign.)
  • Don’t use colour as the only way to convey information. Make sure colours you choose to distinguish between two lines on a graphs, say, will not occupy the same grey space when converted to greyscale. Alternatively, use different styles for those lines or label them clearly directly on the graph.
  • Don’t turn text into an image to fix its appearance. We often see this practice with equations. Screen readers do not read LaTeX. If you have equations or mathematical expressions, convert them to MathML or offer alt text using the Nemeth MathSpeak system.

In essence, because ebooks are like websites, applying the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 will ensure that your ebook will be accessible. The BC Open Textbook Accessibility Toolkit also has useful guidelines for publishers. I would recommend at least spot checking a document with a screen reader to uncover possible ambiguities or reasons for misapprehension.


Huge thanks to Sabina Iseli-Otto for her eye-opening insights!

Open textbooks and the BC Open Textbook Accessibility Toolkit (webinar)

In fall 2012, the BC Open Textbook Project was launched to reduce the financial burden on post-secondary students, who spend an average of $1,200 per year on textbooks. As part of Open Education Week, BCcampus hosted a webinar about the project as well as the associated BC Open Textbook Accessibility Toolkit, created to help people who develop learning resources to make them as accessible as possible from the outset.

Open Textbook Project (presented by Amanda Coolidge)

In 2012, the BC Open Textbook Project received a grant of $1 million to develop open textbooks for the top-forty enrolled subject areas. It received another $1 million in 2014 to create resources for skills and trades training. BC has now committed to working together with Alberta and Saskatchewan to develop and share open textbooks.

Many people think open textbooks are e-textbooks, but what makes them open is their Creative Commons (CC) license: they can be copied, modified, and redistributed for no charge. Instructors can therefore change open textbooks to suit their courses, and students are able to get these books for free. In two years the project has saved more than five thousand students over $700,000 in textbook costs.

BCcampus carried out the Open Textbook Project in three phases:

  • First, they collected existing textbooks with CC licenses and asked faculty to review them.
  • Second, they modified these books based on faculty reviews. At the end of this process, they had covered thirty-six of the top-forty subject areas.
  • Finally, they funded the creation of four textbooks from scratch.

Open textbooks are now being used in fourteen post-secondary institutions across the province, and BCcampus has eighty-one textbooks in its collection. To create these materials, they use Pressbooks, a plugin that lets you write once and publish to many different formats.

Accessibility testing (presented by Tara Robertson)

Tara Robertson helps run CAPER-BC, which provides alternate formats of learning materials to twenty institutions across the province. They specialize in accommodations, including remediating textbooks for people with print disabilities. One reason the Open Textbook Project is exciting, said Robertson, is that instead of taking something broken and fixing it, she now has the opportunity to make the textbooks accessible from the start.

Seven students with special needs volunteered to test the open textbook resources for accessibility, reading selected chapters from textbooks in five subject areas and offering feedback on their usability. Robertson also ran a focus group with five students. She found recruiting testers challenging, and she acknowledges that the students who participated in the focus group, all of whom had visual impairments, were not representative of the many students that had other print disabilities. Still, the testers offered a lot of constructive feedback.

The chapters the students reviewed each had features that might interfere with assistive technology like text-to-speech software: formatted poetry, tables, images, quizzes, and so on. Testing revealed that the software would skip over embedded YouTube videos, so the textbooks would have to include URLs; formatted poems were problematic when enlarged because readers would have to scroll to read each line; and layout sometimes led to a confused reading order.

Robertson sees the accessibility consultation with students as an ongoing process to refine accessibility best practices.

BC Open Textbook Accessibility Toolkit (presented by Sue Doner)

BCcampus has just launched an accessibility toolkit for faculty, content creators, instructional designers, and others who “don’t know what they don’t know about accessible design.” Their aim is to build faculty capacity for universal design and to highlight the distinctions between accommodations and accessibility. Accommodations involve individualizing resources and providing alternative learning options for students who identify as having a disability. If we were proactive about creating materials that were accessible from day one, we’d have no need for accommodations.

Universal design recognizes that different students learn differently—some prefer visual materials, whereas others prefer text, for example. It offers students multiple access points to the content, and it’s better for all students, not just those who register with their disability resource centre. For example, aging students may appreciate being able to enlarge text, and international students may benefit from captions to visual material.

The toolkit offers plain language guidelines for creating different types of textbook content with a student-centred focus, using user personas to inform key design concepts and best practices. It asks content developers to think about what assumptions they’re making of the end users and how those assumptions might affect the way they present the material.

It might take a bit of time for creators of some types of content to catch up with all accessibility features—for example, video and audio should, as a rule, come with transcripts, but a lot of YouTube content doesn’t, and you may run into copyright issues if you try to offer material in different formats.

The next steps for BCcampus are to incorporate the toolkit into the development process for all new open textbooks they create, to modify existing textbooks for accessibility, and to encourage the province’s post-secondary community to formally adopt these guidelines. The toolkit, like the open textbooks, are available under a CC license and can be thought of as a living document that will change and grow as different types of content (e.g., math) becomes amenable to accessible design.

Doner sees these steps as “an opportunity to create a community of practice—a new literacy skill.”


This webinar (along with others offered during Open Education Week) is archived on the BCcampus site.

Christene Hirschfeld—Canadian copyright: The new rules (EAC conference 2013)

“I was boring myself when I put together this presentation,” copyright lawyer Christene Hirschfeld joked as she started off her EAC conference presentation, adding, to audience laughter, “I could not find a way to make this topic interesting.” Her overview of the 2012 amendments to Canada’s Copyright Act stimulated a huge amount of discussion, however, and I think all of the editors in that room would agree that the talk was anything but boring.

Hirschfeld started us off with a bit of historial background: Canada’s Copyright Act was passed in 1921, with significant amendments in 1988, 1997, and 2012. In 1988, computer programs were added as “works,” new licensing arrangements for orphan works (works whose copyright owners cannot be identified) were added, and the extent of moral rights was clarified. Moral rights include the right to be identified or not identified as the author of a work, as well as the right to protect the integrity of the work. Moral rights can’t be assigned, so in a situation of work for hire, there has to be an explicit waiver of moral rights. (There are no moral rights in the U.S.)

The 1997 amendments included a copying levy on blank tapes, new copyright exceptions for special groups (that allow the reproduction of large-print books for visually impaired readers, for example), and an increase in damages for infringement.

In Canada, Hirschfeld said, copyright doesn’t have to be registered, but if you do register, it’s relatively cheap ($65). You send in a copy of the work, and the copyright office sends it back with a certificate of registration. The problem is that they register the work based on the name of the item, and they don’t keep a copy of the work, so if you change its name, you essentially lose the registration.

Why would you bother registering? Hirschfeld pointed out that it reverses the onus of proof: rather than having to prove that someone infringed, the other party would have to prove that they didn’t infringe. Also, registering can make a difference in the realm of statutory damages that are awarded if infringement is found.

The 2012 amendments were much anticipated, with many false starts in 2010 and 2011. The legislation covers a huge range:


To align photography with other means of creative production, the photographer now owns copyright to a photo. Exceptions are when a photographer is an employee or there is a written contract assigning copyright.

(As an aside, Hirschfeld cautioned us all to be very careful about the photos and images that web developers may use when building a website for you. Even if your contract states that they are responsible for all licensing fees, if they go out of business or can’t be contacted, the big stock agencies such as Getty Images will come after you.)

Performers’ moral rights

Performers who own copyright will hold moral rights in a performance. Hirschfeld warned us, however, that music rights are complex and layered, and she told us that an arranger doesn’t have a copyright interest.

Non-commercial user-generated content

Known casually as the “YouTube exception,” this amendment essentially says that if you create a new work, showing skill and judgment, using protected work in a non-commercial context (for example, you record a video of your three-year-old lip synching and share it on YouTube), it isn’t considered infringement. However, attribution is required where reasonable, and the dissemination of the work can’t have any substantial adverse effect on the copyright holder. (Hirschfeld admitted, though, that there’s no standard test for “skill and judgment.”)

Format shifting

You may reproduce a work if

  • the original was not an infringing copy,
  • you legally obtained the original, and
  • the reproduction is for your private purposes.

You may record for later listening or viewing if

  • the program is legally received,
  • you make only one recording,
  • you use that recording for private purposes,
  • you do not distribute the copy, and
  • you keep the recording for no longer than reasonable to listen or view at a more convenient time.

Backup copies

It is legal to back up a source copy of a work if

  • the backup is only for use in case of loss or damage to the original,
  • the source copy does not infringe, and
  • you don’t break a digital lock.

You also have to destroy all copies if you lose title or license to the source copy.

Technical protection measures

You can’t break a digital lock. Consequences of doing so could be a fine of up to $1 million and a prison term of up to five years.

Internet service provider liability

It constitutes infringement to provide Internet-based service primarily to enable copyright infringement.

Fair dealing

Fair dealing is an exception to infringement. To be fair dealing, the purpose of your work must be

  • research,
  • private study,
  • criticism, or
  • news reporting.

As of 2012, the following were added:

  • parody,
  • satire, and
  • education.

Hirschfeld noted, though, that what constitutes “news reporting” could be open to a lot of interpretation. In fact, she offered a practical outlook to most issues of copyright, saying that although something may be law, enforcing it means you have to go to court, and lawyers are expensive. Further, it can be hard to find police officers and judges who take copyright infringement and intellectual property seriously.

Some audience members asked about the legality of keeping a copy of an author’s work on their computer for safekeeping. Realistically, said Hirschfeld, who’s going to know? Legally, though, you should spell this practice out in terms and conditions on a contract. State very clearly how and why you might keep a copy of a work but explain that you won’t distribute it without permission. Similarly, if you need text to use for an editing sample, inform the clients about this possibility (with details such as word count) through your terms and conditions, and make sure they sign off.

Editing books in translation

Yesterday I gave a talk at the EAC-BC meeting about editing books in translation, and I was buoyed by the thought-provoking discussions that came out of the audience, which was packed with expertise. Here’s a short summary of my presentation.

Why translations?

Unlike a piece of visual art, which virtually anyone can see and appreciate, a book has an audience limited to those who understand the language in which it’s written. When you work on a translation, you’re bringing a work of art, a point of view, or a piece of knowledge to a much broader audience than it previously had—a pretty powerful idea, when you think about it. Canadian historian of translation Louis Kelly declared that “Western Europe owes its civilization to translators,” and although that statement may seem grandiose, the Protestant Reformation and the Renaissance wouldn’t have played out the way they did if the Bible and classical Greek and Latin texts hadn’t been translated into the vernacular.

On a more practical level, publishers like translations because, in a way, they mitigate a bit of the risk of cultural production. If you know that the source text has done well in its native territory and your target audience has a comparable culture, there’s a decent chance the translation may also do well. (On the flip side, publishers have to contend with the notion—whether it’s real or merely perceived—that the reading public is loath to buy translations.) Publishers also like translations because they’re often subsidized. Grants from the Canada Council for the Arts or from other funding bodies are available to offset the cost of producing translations for certain kinds of books (eligibility criteria vary depending on the type of program).

If you’re an editor, translations are a great way to cut your teeth: with the odd exception, they involve no structural editing, and most of the work is copy editing, with a bit of stylistic editing. You also get to work with translators, who, because they are language professionals like you, understand the role of the editor and often come into the working relationship with an eagerness to start a dialogue about the text. Many translators are also editors (in fact, I often like to think about stylistic editing as translating from English to English), and because both parties are, in a sense, working with what one translator called “borrowed words,” the relationship can be really collaborative and dynamic. You would normally be working with a translator who’s translating from the source language into his or her mother tongue, so, even if you don’t know the source language, there’s no language barrier to worry about.

Copyright and contracts

As the editor of a book in translation, you have to be aware of three different contracts:

  • the contract for the translation rights
  • the contract with the translator
  • the agreement with the funding body

The contract for the translation rights is usually between the publisher of the translation and the publisher of the original text, although occasionally it’s between the publisher of the translation and the author. An author has to authorize a translation before it can be published, and the translation rights have to be assigned to the publisher—this contract typically serves both of these functions. For an illustrated book, those rights may or may not include image rights. This contract may also specify an approval process for the translation, as well as the format of the copyright notice on the translation’s copyright page.

The contract with the translator defines the scope of the translator’s work—any tasks that fall beyond that scope (e.g., translating praise quotes for marketing copy) may mean the publisher has to pay extra—as well as project timelines. This contract will also specify how the translator will be credited. (Because a publisher will often try to downplay the fact that a translation is a translation, the translator’s name may not have to appear on the cover but would appear on the title and copyright pages.)

The agreement with the funding body, whether it’s the Canada Council or a foreign organization, such as the Goethe-Institut or China Book International or NORLA (Norwegian Literature Abroad), will usually include the exact wording of an acknowledgement clause, and possibly a logo, that must appear in the published translation. If you fail to include this clause, the publisher may lose its translation funding.

A publisher might not allow you to see these contracts directly, but you should know to ask for these specific pieces of information so that you can complete the project properly. Any tasks that these agreements don’t cover—for example, clearing image rights or handling text permissions—may fall to you as the book’s editor. The publisher may also ask you to approach well-known people to write a foreword or cover blurb for the book.

Working with a translated manuscript

When you receive the finished manuscript from the translator, the only structural work you’d be expected to do is a quick concordance check to make sure that all of the paragraphs in the original appear in the translation. Otherwise, you’re mostly copy editing, although you’ll want to offer stylistic suggestions when something in the translation doesn’t sound quite right.

You don’t have to know the source language to edit a translation, although, in my experience, having some experience with the source language can help you know what to look out for (and, as we’ll see later, can help you land work), including problems such as false cognates. Also pay attention to idioms that don’t work in the target language; you may have to suggest different idioms that convey the same concept. Prepositions are by far the most idiomatic part of speech, so if a sentence sounds a little off, check the prepositions to see if the appropriate ones have been used. When a translator is switching back and forth between languages, it’s really easy to use a preposition that works for the source but not for the target language. Finally, punctuation is treated differently in different languages, so be sure that the punctuation in the manuscript is appropriate to the target language.

As you would for any manuscript, keep an eye out for quoted passages that may require permission to reproduce. Text permissions in translations are an especially tricky issue, because they can be multilayered—for example, even if a passage in the source text is in the public domain, the translation of the passage in the target language may still be under copyright. Avoid what the Chicago Manual of Style calls “the sin of retranslation”—if the quote in the source text had been translated from the target language, the translator must track down the original quote rather than translating it anew.

Always ask the publisher for a copy of the source text. Not only do you need to do an initial concordance check, but you’ll want to be able to refer to the source if you run into passages in the translation that sound strange or awkward because of possible homonym confusion. Tools such as source language–target language dictionaries, and terminology databases like Termium can come in handy in those situations. (Of course, you’d never send a whole novel through Google Translate, but the tool can be useful for interpreting one or two problematic sentences as a starting point to a discussion with the translator.)

Other translation-related issues that you often hear about—including whether the translation should be literal or free, whether a translator should define unfamiliar terms with footnotes or glosses, how to approach culturally sensitive topics—are usually, if you’re working with an experienced professional translator, within the translator’s domain. You should absolutely be aware of these issues, since the translator may look to you for discussion or advice, but in many cases you won’t be expected to play too hands-on a role. With a less experienced editor, however, you may be called on to offer more input on these matters.

Finding work as an editor of translations

If you’re interested in editing books in translations, start, as you would for any kind of book editing, with a query letter to a publisher, but specify your interest in translations. (Of course, it helps to know someone on the inside, which is why it’s important to build relationships with publishers in other ways.) You can check the Canada Council website for a list of translation grants that have been awarded to find out which publishers in the country publish translations. Try also to build relationships with translators—such as members of the Literary Translators’ Association of Canada—because a translator who knows you and trusts your work may recommend you to his or her publisher.

If you know a second language, you can offer your services as a reader. Publishers return from the London Book Fair in the spring and the Frankfurt Book Fair in the fall with boxes of books in languages they may not know how to read; they’ll offer readers a fee to read and evaluate whether translations of these books might be good fits on their lists. If you identify a promising project and the publisher goes ahead with it, you’d be a natural choice to edit it.

Do a bit of research into funding programs for translations that are available outside of Canada. Many countries are eager to export their literature and have ministries of culture or associated organizations that subsidize foreign translations. If you approach a publisher right before a book fair with the pitch that you’re available as a reader, you’ve built connections with several literary translators, and you’re aware of a specific funding body that might subsidize the cost of a translation, that’s a pretty compelling package.

When evaluating books as a reader, consider the following:

Does it fit on the publisher’s list?

This point may seem obvious, but it can be tempting to recommend a book project even if it’s not a good fit just so that you’ll get to work on it. Doing so would only sabotage your credibility with the publisher.

How much localization does the work need?

Would the book need to be changed in any way to be comprehensible to the translation’s readership? Would the book benefit from a foreword?

How long will the translation be?

French texts are about 20% longer than English texts, and Spanish about 25% longer than English. if the original is short to begin with, will a translation be too slight to publish? Length is less of a concern for ebooks but is definitely a consideration for print books.

Are there image or text permissions to worry about?

Flag these for the publisher, because they may add to the schedule or to the budget, and they may affect how the publisher approaches the contract for translation rights.

For illustrated books, is there reverse type?

If the publisher of the translation hopes to use the same printer as the originating publisher, reverse type means added production costs: rather than replacing just the black plate, the printer would have to replace all four CMYK plates. Flag instances of reverse type so that the publisher is at least aware of them.

Further resources

If you’d like to learn more about the world of books in translation, I highly recommend Translators on Translating by Andrew Wilson and Why Translation Matters by Edith Grossman. You may also find resources on the websites of the Literary Translators’ Association of Canada, the Canadian Translators, Terminologists and Interpreters Council, the Society of Translators and Interpreters of British Columbia, and similar groups in other provinces.

February EAC-BC meeting

A week from today, on Wednesday, February 20, I’ll be giving a talk at the EAC-BC meeting about editing books in translation. I’ll talk about copyright, the editor–translator relationship, special issues in translation projects, and strategies for getting work as an editor of translations. I’ll also be giving away a couple of books that I’ve recently reviewed: Science in Print and Book Was There. Come join us (but leave all of your tough questions at home)!

There’s a pre-meeting pay-as-you-go dinner:

Elephant & Castle
385 Burrard Street (Marine Building)
RSVP here by the end of the day Monday, February 18

followed by the meeting at the usual location:

535 Hornby Street, fourth floor

I start blathering at 7:30pm.

For those of you who can’t make it but still care, I’ll post a summary of my talk here by the end of next week.

Writing Rights—personal perspectives

In his Writing Rights session, David Scott Hamilton made an incredibly important point when he described asking for a royalty in his contract negotiations with Anvil. The publisher showed him the numbers and said, *We just can’t do it.”

That conversation really underscored that building a productive publisher–translator relationship is a two-way street—mutual respect is key. The subsequent discussions during the workshop about concerns over relinquishing control by assigning copyright and ways to negotiate the best contract might imply an adversarial relationship, but having worked at a publishing house, let me offer this perspective:  publishers, in the vast majority of cases, aren’t out to screw authors over, just as authors who leave a small press after achieving some success to work with a bigger company aren’t trying to screw over their former publishers. Publishing is a business—one in which, especially in the literary world, margins are simply razor thin. Of course I’m by no means suggesting that artists shouldn’t try to negotiate a favourable contract—on the contrary. However, I think it’s important to highlight the fact that most publishers, particularly small literary presses, aren’t prolific money-making enterprises. Most are doing the best they can with what they have, and I think a more productive relationship would ultimately result if writers and translators approached their negotiations with that understanding in mind. It’s not so much that publishers want to hand artists the short end of the stick but that, in Canadian publishing, both ends of the stick can end up pretty short.

That said, I did very much appreciate and admire Martha Rans’s fervent advocacy on behalf of the artistic community. For artists whose work is exploited, having support like the Artists’ Legal Outreach can be invaluable.

When I attended Chang Han’s intellectual property session at Freelance Camp, I was left with a niggling question. Sure, you’re theoretically protected by a framework of copyright laws, but if someone infringes, not only do you have to discover the infringement, but you also have to be prepared to pursue legal action in the infringer’s jurisdiction. Rans’s comment about the difficulty of enforcement, particularly across borders, filled in the critical missing piece in my understanding.

Carolyn Swayze’s session consisted mainly of anecdotes from her work as an agent, and they were interesting—I didn’t know much about literary scouts before her talk—but the outline of the workshop implied she’d be discussing the Literary Translators’ Association of Canada’s model contract, which she didn’t address. I would have liked to see the anatomy of a translation contract to discover how much it jibed with my own experiences working with translators for a publisher. Luckily, it appears that the comprehensive LTAC booklet accompanying the workshop has all of that information and more—including foreign funding sources for translations.

Overall, Writing Rights was a very informative workshop, and I got to meet some terrific people. I’m amazed that it was free—another big thank-you to LTAC, the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Department of Canadian Heritage for sponsoring the event. If I could have made one suggestion, it would have been to make the day’s program available on the Word on the Street website prior to the workshop. I could find very little information about it, even the morning of, and I didn’t know what kinds of speakers and sessions would be featured until I arrived; knowing the workshop structure would have allowed for better planning on my part.

Writing Rights, Session 2—Martha Rans on copyright law

Martha Rans is a copyright lawyer who co-founded the Artists’ Legal Outreach. The ALO runs a legal clinic at which artists and arts organizations can, by donation, have a thirty-minute consultation with a lawyer or law student about a problem related to their artistic discipline, including issues relating to contracts and copyright. Rans spoke to Writing Rights participants about copyright issues, particularly as they relate to writing and translation.

Copyright exists so that creators can protect their intellectual property and allow them to earn money from their work, which encourages creative production. It’s an important value for artists, and most artists’ organizations are vocal in advocating for copyright. Of course, since, as Rans said, “everything about who we are as people is connected to culture and creativity,” we have to strike a balance between artists’ ability to protect their work and users’ ability to gain access to that work; we’ve built into the copyright structure the concept of the public domain.

What’s copyrightable? Books, songs, images, plays, software—forms of creative expression. Copyright doesn’t cover a compilation of facts or titles or utilitarian goods. Concepts and ideas are not covered by copyright; it’s the expression of those ideas that are covered. Copyright covers original work, which means that it must be original to the creator. For example, two people could take photos that happen to look identical, but both images are protected by copyright. Copyright takes effect as soon as you’ve created your work and fixed it in a tangible (including digital) form, and you don’t have to register your copyright. However, if you’re collaborating with other people and it may become necessary for you to clearly establish when you created a work, you might want to register it. Most importantly make sure your name is associated with your work. Including the phrase “All rights reserved” with your copyright notice means that your permission is needed for any use involving your work.

Copyright lasts for a term of death plus fifty years in Canada (now true for photographs, too). In the U.S. and E.U., the term is death plus seventy years; Canada’s shorter term allows our homegrown artists more freedom to explore. Rans said that the issue is not whether you can play around with a work under copyright but, once you’ve done that, whether you can then sell it for commercial purposes. What’s considered commercial? The line isn’t always clearly defined—for example, in cases where you give content away online but charge for advertising on your website or where the content is used by a non-profit or educational institution.

Associated with copyright are moral rights, which includes paternity (the right of attribution) and integrity (the right to prevent your work from being mutilated, distorted, or modified in a way that damages your reputation). Homages are culturally important—they’re genuine creative expressions in their own right—but, Rans advised, put yourself in the shoes of the artist you’re imitating. Often artists care less about the money and more about how their work is being used. Rans also noted that the U.S. doesn’t include moral rights in its copyright act.

If you own copyright to a work, you can assign it, or you can license it. When you assign your copyright, as a writer usually does with a publisher, you retain very little other than moral rights—you essentially sell your ability to control it. Licensing allows others to use your work under specific conditions and often within a specific time frame. Rans stressed that contract negotiation is hugely important, since you’re likely giving up a huge amount of control when you assign your rights. “You need to get independent legal advice when entering into an agreement with a publisher,” she advised, and the ALO clinic offers artists the opportunity to do that.

So what constitutes infringement? Again, there’s no bright-line test. The criterion of “substantial similarity” can be subjective, and something that is infringement to one person may not be infringement to another. If you find yourself accused of infringement, it doesn’t mean that you’ve infringed—but do be prepared to answer the accusation. Rans warns that if you happen to find something you’d like to use—like archival material or old photographs—it’s your obligation to search for the original copyright owner. On the flip side, if you discover your copyright has been infringed, you have to sue the infringer in his or her jurisdiction—which can be tricky for artists of limited means. “It’s important to understand that when you upload something to the Internet, you’re giving up a good deal of control.”

Built into the Copyright Act are exceptions that allow works under copyright to be used in some situations. The most important exception is fair dealing, where works can be used for research, private study, news reporting, and criticism. Bill C-11 recently added three purposes to fair dealing: education, parody, and satire. The education provision is a very contested area at the moment, as it changes the game for educational publishing. (As an aside, Bill C-11 also makes it illegal to circumvent digital rights management.)

Artists hoping to make their work more available can turn to Creative Commons, which is not an alternative to copyright but a licensing framework that is part of copyright. Creators can choose licensing, for example, that allows others to modify their work but requires attribution or that allows others to redistribute their work freely but requires that it remain unchanged.

If you’d like to learn more about Creative Commons, Rans will be a panellist at a Creative Commons Salon on Monday, October 15, from 7pm to 9pm. Admission is free, but you do have to sign up.

Writing Rights: Writing, Translation, and Copyright

I’ve signed on to give a talk at the February 2013 EAC-BC meeting about editing books in translation. Figuring I should get a translator’s perspective on the topic, I’ve slowly been making my way through Andrew Wilson’s anthology Translators on Translating, and I attended a free full-day workshop yesterday at the Vancouver Public Library called Writing Rights: Writing, Translation, and Copyright. The workshop was part of the Word on the Street festival and was sponsored by the Literary Translators’ Association of Canada, the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Department of Canadian Heritage. It featured a session by Governor General’s Award finalist translator David Scott Hamilton, who took us through the process of how he came to translate Paradis, clef en main into Exit and explained the structure of and eligibility requirements for Canada Council of the Arts grants, which are the main funding source for literary translators in Canada.

Hamilton was followed by copyright lawyer Martha Rans of Artists’ Legal Outreach, who gave a session about copyright issues relevant to translators, including the recent changes to the Copyright Act as a result of Bill C-11.

Literary agent Carolyn Swayze finished off the day with a short session about negotiating publishing contracts.

All three speakers (and many of the workshop’s participants) offered some important insights on translation and copyright, and I’ll summarize their talks here over the next few days. More than one person has told me that my blog posts are generally on the long, indigestible side, so rather than shove the whole day into a single post, I’ll break the workshop up into bite-size pieces by session. Stay tuned!