CanLII Seeks to Defend Legal Research as Fair Dealing

The Canadian Legal Information Institute has joined with the Federation of Law Societies of Canada to file a motion seeking leave to intervene in SOCAN v. Bell, the copyright case that will examine the scope of research within fair dealing. If CanLII’s application is accepted, it plans to argue:

  1. The Copyright Act and its fair dealing provisions must be interpreted in conjunction with constitutional, administrative law, and common law principles guaranteeing access to justice for all persons. Any restriction to access legal information is in violation of these fundamental principles;
  2. CanLII’s distinct role as a provider of free legal information to the public relies upon the interpretation and application of the principle of fair-dealing. Therefore any narrowing of the scope and practically of the fair-dealing principle set out in CCH may affect the digitally based services of CanLII that make legal materials freely and widely available;
  3. An interpretation that the “large and liberal” standard of fair-dealing is not applicable to digital works would likely be to the detriment of public users of CanLII’s legal materials and would create a likelihood of fiscal and access constraints to legal materials.

I am a member of the CanLII board and was very supportive of the decision to seek leave to intervene.


  1. Wait a minute …
    Shouldn’t a corporation’s IP based profits supersede any consideration of justice or the common good?

  2. pat donovan says:

    well, damn!
    OK, ya got another point from me. You fight from a LONG way off my position on most issues….

    but this sounds like database patenting in suiti..

    and you aren’t worried about the criminalization of opposition?



  3. We need to be very careful on this one
    Specifically, what is meant by research? Setting it too wide throws out the concept of copyright in the digital realm.

    Crockett. While I think I understand what you are getting at, remember IP based revenues from publicly traded corps feed the common good in as much as they fund retirement plans (profits driving stock prices and dividends feeding into the fund), as well as the corporate taxes (income and property) assisting in funding essential and social services. We need to ensure that an appropriate balance is struck which recognizes both sources of the “common good”.

  4. @Anon-K
    You’re forgetting one very important source of the “common good” and that is that at one point in time copyrights do actually expire and the works thus become public domain; free-as-in-beer to enjoy and free-as-in-speech to do with what you want. Also note that IP portfolios do not generate any taxes so long an intellectual property tax hasn’t been introduced (yet). That is the reason “rightsholders” like very, very long copyrights: they keep their IP portfolios protected for free.

    With the above in mind we need to be careful to prevent that once certain groups get fair use and see their own needs satisfied, there may be no incentive for them to look after the fair use rights of other groups (for instance: ordinary citizens, who are always very low on the priority lists).