For the past 13 years, Canadian copyright jurisprudence has followed a consistent trajectory. Starting with the Supreme Court of Canada’s CCH decision in 2004, Canadian courts and tribunals have affirmed the need for balance in copyright and the importance of user’s rights. That approach has been particularly evident in fair dealing cases. Much to the dismay of Access Copyright, from the Supreme Court’s 2012 copyright pentalogy cases (including Alberta v. Access Copyright and SOCAN v. Bell) to the Copyright Board’s rulings on copying in K-12 schools and governments to the Federal Court of Appeal (upholding the Copyright Board’s decisions), the courts have upheld the need for balance and a broad, liberal approach to fair dealing.
Yesterday, however, five years to the day of the release of the Supreme Court’s copyright pentalogy, Access Copyright found a willing taker for its legal arguments. Judge Michael Phelan of the Federal Court of Canada delivered a complete victory for the copyright collective, rejecting York University’s fair dealing approach and concluding that an interim tariff is mandatory and enforceable against the university. The immediate implications of the decision are significant: royalty payments to Access Copyright (that will likely be kept in escrow pending any appeals) and the prospect of other universities re-thinking their current copyright policies. The decision will also have an effect on the copyright review scheduled for later this year. With the court’s decision, there will be little reason to revisit the inclusion of the “education” purpose in fair dealing as it had no discernible impact on the court’s legal analysis.