The implications of last week’s Supreme Court of Canada copyright decisions seem readily apparent to just about everybody – other than Access Copyright. There have been numerous posts analyzing the decisions (here
, and here
), all of which recognize the expansion of fair dealing (my posts on fair dealing as fair use
and on technological neutrality
). Yet in a release
posted hours after losing at Canada’s highest court, the copyright collective implausibly claimed that the decision “will have a limited impact on the importance of the Access Copyright licence to the education community” and that it “leaves copyright licensing in the education sector alive and well.” To support the claim, Executive Director Maureen Cavan argued that the specific case only covered about seven percent of the copying done in K-12 schools. The Access Copyright claims were echoed in a release
from The Writers’ Union of Canada.
The reaction was reminiscent of the last time Access Copyright lost big at the Supreme Court. Immediately after the CCH decision was issued in 2004, Access Copyright’s release stated that “this ruling does not change the fact that most copying of copyright protected works does not fall under fair dealing. The Supreme Court stated definitively that copyright does exist in original works, and that is why organizations must sign an Access Copyright licence or risk breaking the law.”
The strategy of claiming that little has changed may have worked with some institutions after CCH, but it is very unlikely to do so this time. It is true that the specific case involved a small percentage of overall K-12 school copying, but the court’s fair dealing analysis applies to all copying, not just the copies at issue. In this specific case, the court ruled the Copyright Board’s analysis of the fair dealing six factor test was unreasonable, an unmistakable signal to reverse its ruling. More broadly, the decision eviscerates the current Access Copyright business model that is heavily reliant on educational revenues. The decision does not create a free-for-all – schools will continue to spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year on books, database licences, and transactional licences – but the need for an additional Access Copyright licence for schools at all levels is now unquestionably in doubt.
Just how badly did Access Copyright fare at the Supreme Court?
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Last week, I posted
on the significance of the Supreme Court of Canada’s five copyright decisions with an emphasis on the shift from fair dealing to fair use. This week, I have several additional posts planned including one on the implications for Access Copyright as well as a broader examination of how the court has elevated users’ rights within Canadian copyright law. This post focuses on the second major development in the cases: the articulation of technological neutrality as a foundational principle of Canadian copyright. The technological neutrality principle could have an enormous long-term impact on Canadian copyright, posing a threat to some copyright collective tariff proposals and to the newly enacted digital lock rules.
The technological neutrality principle is discussed in several cases, but gets its most important airing in the Entertainment Software Association of Canada v. SOCAN decision. The majority of the court states:
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The Supreme Court of Canada issued its much anticipated rulings in the five copyright cases (ESAC v. SOCAN
, Rogers v. SOCAN
, SOCAN v. Bell
– song previews, Alberta v. Access Copyright
) it heard last December (my coverage of the two days of hearings here
). It will obviously take some time to digest these decisions, but the clear takeaway is that the court has delivered an undisputed win for fair dealing that has positive implications for education and innovation, while striking a serious blow to copyright collectives such as Access Copyright.
Led by Justice Abella, the court has reaffirmed that fair dealing is a user’s right that must be interpreted in a broad and liberal manner. In fact, the court provides further guidance on interpreting fair dealing with an emphasis on the need for a flexible, technology-neutral approach. In reading the decisions in the Access Copyright and song previews cases, it is hard to imagine a bigger victory for education, Internet users, and innovative companies. This post will provide some quick key points in the Access Copyright and song previews decisions.
The Access Copyright case has enormous implications for education and copyright in Canada. With the court’s strong endorsement of fair dealing in the classroom, it completely eviscerates much of Access Copyright’s business model and calls into question the value of the model licence signed by many Canadian universities. Writing for the majority, Abella adopts several crucial findings, not the least of which is that fair dealing is a user’s right. Piece by piece, Abella tears apart Access Copyright’s claims. First, she says the attempt by Access Copyright to separate teacher copies for students and students making their own copies should be rejected. The court states:
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The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that Internet providers are not broadcasters for the purposes of the Broadcasting Act when they simply transmit content to subscribers. The court noted “when providing access to the Internet, which is the only function of ISPs placed in issue by the reference question, […]
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With the recent attention on the term of copyright in Canada, Meera Nair reminds readers about recent Supreme Court of Canada comments on the importance of the public domain: In 2002, Justice Binne, writing for the majority in ThÃ©berge v. Galerie d’Art du Petit Champlain inc., stated: â€œExcessive control by […]
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