Teachers, it’s time to flex fair dealing.

Yesterday, a happy coincidence: first, a highschool friend, now an educator, asked me out-of-the-blue on Facebook (it’s the kind of thing I love about FB) a question about copyright infringement cases involving educators; second, I received CAUT‘s new Guidelines for the Use of Copyrighted Material, a must-read primer on fair dealing for educators. I’ve reproduced my friend’s question and my response, extending the latter with more about fair dealing and CAUT’s guide — because more educators need to know how liberally we can and should be exercising our robust fair dealing rights.

Q: I need an example of a Canadian Copyright Infringement Case related to academics or education and am having trouble finding anything interesting on the net…. I thought you may have a ready example given your recent involvement on the subject. Any thoughts or suggestions on where I can find what I’m looking for?

A: Probably the most important case for copyright and education in Canada was Law Society of Upper Canada v. CCH Canadian in 2004. Michael Geist outlines and links to it in a recent blog post about fair dealing.

Canada’s Heritage ministry has some analysis of it (but keep in mind that this is one of the ministries responsible for tabling Bill C-32). The ministry analysis considers the opportunities and implications of the CCH decision, one important result of which is simply its formal recognition in law that “fair dealing, as construed by the court, now allows for a more flexible framework.” And while the ministry’s analysis suggests problems raised by the decision, it doesn’t suggest they’d be solved by the “digital locks” provision that made C-32 so hotly contested. Citing scholars’ and students’ dissatisfaction with licensing, the analysis attributes some of this to a failure of CanCopy (now Access Copyright) to recompense authors: “CanCopy ‘had more than $18 million in undistributed royalties, and no apparently systematic way of determining to whom this money belongs’.”)

Howard Knopf (whose blog, like Geist’s, is also very good on copyright) also summarizes the importance of CCH v. LSUC in this recent post:

…the CCH decision in the Supreme Court of Canada made it very clear that:
• “User rights are not just loopholes. Both owner rights and user rights should therefore be given the fair and balanced reading that befits remedial legislation.” and.
• “ The fair dealing exception under s. 29 is open to those who can show that their dealings with a copyrighted work were for the purpose of research or private study. ‘Research’ must be given a large and liberal interpretation in order to ensure that users’ rights are not unduly constrained.”

There are also some relevant fair dealing cases and appeals underway right now:

Province of Alberta v. Access Copyright. Knopf is blogging about it, as in this post from early May; according to Knopf, the case “involves the very important issue of whether material prescribed by a teacher or provided in multiple copies can be fair dealing.”

This blog post by Knopf makes reference to the SOCAN v. Bell case, which investigated “whether providing previews consisting of excerpts of works is fair dealing for the purpose of research that does not infringe copyright.” In May 2010, the Federal Court of Appeals decided that that the free 30-second previews provided by music download vendors like iTunes are to be treated as fair dealing for consumer research purposes. Geist is reporting new appeals to and interventions in that decision.

Notably, of these cases, only Alberta v. Access Copyright directly involves educational institutions. But all three cases have significant bearing on the educational exercise of fair dealing. Enter the CAUT Guidelines, and the following. As stated in the message to which CAUT attached its Guidelines:

There has been a good deal of controversy and conflicting advice regarding when copyrighted material may be copied without permission or payment to the copyright owner. CAUT is concerned that both users and owners of copyrighted material are treated fairly. To that end, CAUT has prepared the attached document [which] explains the legal foundation of copying rights and provides direction on its lawful exercise.

The “controversy and conflict” to which CAUT alludes has resulted from debates about Bill C-32 and about ACTA and CETA, from Access Copyright’s “astroturfing” against fair dealing in C-32, and also maybe from increasing actions over mere linking. Now dead but expected back from the grave soon, Bill C-32 promised good, clear fair dealing provisions for educators, albeit provisions trumped by protections for “digital locks” like DRM. Often compared to the USA’s DMCA, Bill C-32’s fair dealing for educators actually fell short of the flexible and generous provisions given US educators. Check out this syllabus for Martha Woodmansee’s course on copyright — look at all the freely available course readings. (If that’s what US fair use now affords, then Canadian fair dealing should, too.)

Access Copyright (AC) lobbied hard against C-32’s educational fair dealing provisions, all the while while negotiating a massively inflated licensing tariff for educators. The royalty-collecting society’s campaign, in effect, pitted the creators of published works against the educators who use them, caused much confusion over the perceived pros and cons of new copyright legislation, and also provoked lots of institutions to decline to renew their licensing agreements with AC. AC is vigorously opposing the fair dealing provisions in any new Canadian copyright legislation — after all, revised and expanded fair dealing provisions could well put a collecting agency like AC out of business.

Meanwhile, the mere act of hyperlinking is increasingly subject to regulation. In Crookes v. Newton (2009), the BC Court of Appeal ruled that a website owner is not liable for linking to defamatory sites, that decision is now being appealed. In March of this year, the US Dept of Homeland Security arrested an Internet user for linking. And AC’s proposed new tariffs for PSE call for the documentation of and collection of fees for any and all Internet linking done by teachers (this proposal has not been approved and could be debates for months if not years).

Taken together, all these different developments, together with privately imposed teaching policies and publishing guidelines (e.g. a limit of 150 words on quoted excerpts in refereed articles, which I’ve heard of anecdotally but can’t find documented), are chilling the climate for fair dealing, and enclosing that much more of the already shrinking commons of public knowledge. Which is to say, they’re chilling the climate for teaching. As Michael Geist told delegates at last year’s ABC Copyright Conference, fair dealing is a “use it or lose it provision”: if Canadian educators don’t start exercising our fair dealing rights more extensively and aggressively, we stand to lose them altogether under the pressure of Big Media’s hugely influential lobbying efforts.

Fortunately, court decisions like LSUC v. CCH can and should embolden us to flex our fair dealing rights, rather than shrink from doing so under threat of litigation. The legal precedents currently support a “large and liberal” interpretation of fair dealing, and, as public educators, we have, I think, an ethical responsibility — not to mention a huge convenience — to act on that interpretation, towards principled and productive pedagogy. Against the creeping chill over academic freedom and effective teaching, give CAUT’s Guidelines a read — take ten minutes to learn the basics of educational fair dealing — and start staking your claim to a patch of the knowledge commons. A modest and reasonable patch, tended properly and shared appropriately, can yield large and liberal teaching outcomes.

Works Consulted

CAUT. Guidelines for the Use of Copyrighted Material. Ottawa: CAUT/ACPPU, May 2011 http://www.caut.ca/uploads/Copyright_guidelines.pdf

Edmonds, Kelly. “Off with their heads! Copyright infringement in the Canadian online higher educational environment.” Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology 32.2 (2006) http://www.cjlt.ca/index.php/cjlt/article/view/52/49

Dhawan, Sona. “Potential Liability for Hyperlinking: Crookes v. Newton.” The Court [blog] 31 Mar. 2010 http://www.thecourt.ca/2010/03/31/potential-liability-for-hyperlinking-crookes-v-newton/

Federal Court of Appeal. Decisions of the Federal Court of Appeal [database]. http://decisions.fca-caf.gc.ca/en/index.html

Geist, Michael. “The Canadian Copyfight Story: The Next Chapter.” ABC Copyright Conference. Athabasca U, 21 June 2010.

—. Michael Geist’s Blog. http://www.michaelgeist.ca/

Knopf, Howard. Excess Copyright [blog]. http://excesscopyright.blogspot.com/

McCutcheon, Mark A. Academicalism [blog]. https://academicalism.wordpress.com/

Ministry of Canadian Heritage. “Fair Dealing in Canada.” Ottawa: Government of Canada, 22 May 2009. http://www.canadianheritage.gc.ca/pc-ch/org/sectr/ac-ca/pda-cpb/publctn/cch-2007/102-eng.cfm

Supreme Court of Canada. Judgments of the Supreme Court of Canada [database]. Lexum/Supreme Court of Canada. http://scc.lexum.org/en/

Woodmansee, Martha. Intellectual property and the Construction of Authorship [course syllabus]. Case Western Reserve U, n.d. http://www.case.edu/affil/sce/authorship/syllabus.html

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