The Federal Court of Canada has issued an important decision involving copyright and posting content online. The case involves a lawsuit launched by Richard Warman and the National Post against Mark and Constance Fournier, who run the FreeDominion website. Warman and the National Post sued the site over the appearance of two articles and an inline link to photograph that appeared on the forum. The court dismissed all three claims.
While the first claim (Warman’s article) was dismissed on the basis that it took too long to file the lawsuit, the legal analysis on the National Post claim involving an article by Jonathan Kay assesses the copyright implications of posting several paragraphs from an article online. In this case, the article was 11 paragraphs long. The reproduction on the Free Dominion site included the headline, three complete paragraphs and part of a fourth. The court ruled that this amount of copying did not constitute a “substantial part” of the work and therefore there was no infringement. The court added that in the alternative, the reproduction of the work was covered by fair dealing, concluding that a large and liberal interpretation of news reporting would include posts to the discussion forum. The decision then includes an analysis of the six factor test and concludes that the use was fair.
The court’s discussion is important for several reasons. First, the finding that several paragraphs do not constitute a substantial part of the work has echoes to the Supreme Court of Canada hearing in December when the court opened the door to questions about some of the copying in schools not rising to the level of substantial copying. Moreover, if this amount of copying is not substantial, it has implications in a wide range of additional cases (including the Access Copyright model licence). Second, the court’s conclusion is critically important to online chat forums, blogs, and other venues where copying several paragraphs from an article is quite common. Given the court’s analysis, such copying appears to be permissible on at least two grounds, including the notion that such postings can be treated as news reporting for fair dealing purposes.
The third claim involved a link to a photograph posted on the photographer’s site. The court had no trouble concluding that the link was not copyright infringement, rightly noting that the photographer authorized the communication of the work by posting it on his website. This finding should put an end to claims that linking to copyright materials somehow raises potential legal risks. The Supreme Court of Canada has already ruled against attributing defamation to such links and now the Federal Court has concluded that links cannot be said to constitute unauthorized communication and therefore infringement. The implications once again extend to forums, blogs, and other venues as well as the Access Copyright model licence.