04 May, 2013

Retrospective - Fair dealing in modern Canada

What are the limits to what you can do with copyrighted material that you've bought? The degree of freedom can vary quite a bit, even within the common law system itself, ranging from more restrictive (and, quite frankly, out-dated) levels of fair dealing such as in the UK, to the broad fair use of the United States. The position of fair dealing in common law countries took a huge leap in the beginning of the new millennium, in the frozen North of all places.

The land of maple syrup, lumberjacks, and apparently fair dealing
The hallmark case of the early 2000s in the development of fair dealing and its application in Canada was CCH Canadian Ltd v Law Society of Upper Canada which not only shaped subsequent legislation, but changed the approach taken to fair dealing within the judiciary. The case was one of several where the Supreme Court of Canada flexed its muscle and actively developed the interpretations of fair dealing provisions in Canada.

To provide the case with some exposition, fair dealing essentially is a set of categories through which copyrighted material can be used. In Canada, the UK and Australia fair dealing is restricted to fixed categories, such as criticism and review, study and research, and the reporting of news, with the US standing alone with a much broader, open-ended policy of fair dealing (in the US referred to as 'fair use'); leaving out set categories and opening up fair use to a much wider interpretation and application by the judiciary. One could describe the former jurisdictions as a feeding bowl approach, where the acts allowed are merely provided as exceptions as opposed to being intrinsically embedded in the copyright provisions or copyright itself as a concept. What this means is that essentially the exceptions are treated as leftovers, or in another sense inferior to that of the rights in copyright and their execution. The US legislation takes a much more lenient approach, evaluating the possibly infringing act through its nature and purpose, clearly allowing for more wiggle-room and judicial interpretation than its counterparts.

The case of CCH dealt with the copying of legal materials for practitioners and law firms within Ontario, seldom including other parts of Canada as well, where cases, legislation and other works were copied and sent to their customers for a fee. The Law Society also offered photocopying services for anyone wishing to copy the materials themselves. CCH Canadian took exception to this use of copyrighted material, some of which were owned by them, and sued the Law Society for copyright infringement. The matter went as far as the Supreme Court of Canada, where the case dealt with a number of issues, but the more influential of which considerations over fair were dealing under the Canadian legislation.

One quote in the case, albeit not directly related to the fair dealing discussed, from the case of Th├ęberge v Galerie d'Art du Petit Champlain Inc by Justice Binnie, showcasing the Court's attitude towards copyright quite well:

"The Copyright Act is usually presented as a balance between promoting the public interest in the encouragement and dissemination of works of the arts and intellect and obtaining a just reward for the creator (or, more accurately, to prevent someone other than the creator from appropriating whatever benefits may be generated)... The proper balance among these and other public policy objectives lies not only in recognizing the creator’s rights but in giving due weight to their limited nature."

What this approach does differently is discuss the limited nature of the rights, whereas often the rights of authors and content creators alike is treated as absolute while fair dealing is purely annexed to those rights. The balancing of public interest and rights is imperative when considering fairness, which is an operative part of all fair dealing. If balance between people’s interests and their rights is not struck real fairness can never be attained.

In its deliberation of fair dealing the Court formulated the approach that should be taken when assessing proper fair dealing, more specifically fairness in that dealing, using both the US legislation discussed above and the English case of Hubbard v Vosper and set six factors that need to be assessed in determining the fairness in fair dealing; (1) the purpose of the dealing; (2) the character of the dealing; (3) the amount of the dealing; (4) alternatives to the dealing; (5) the nature of the work; and (6) the effect of the dealing on the work. In their decision the Law Society had not infringed copyright and their actions fell square within fair dealing. The purpose of the dealing refers to a possible commercial or defamatory use of the works, while its nature also plays a part in the deliberation, that being whether the work is published or confidential for example. Amount refers to how much of the work was copied, be it a page from a book or the entire work; the more copied, the more likely it will not be a fair amount. Would copying the work be something that has to be done, with no alternatives, or would other ways of accessing or using the same or similar material be available, and at what cost or effort would this come at. Finally whether the copying has a detrimental effect on the work or its sales has to be considered, with a satiric work clearly not affecting a factual work’s sales in the same market. The terms themselves are left relatively open, providing space for deliberation and interpretation on a case-by-case basis.
The vigilant guardians of copyright

Without diving too deep into the specific findings of the Court, one conclusion can be drawn from the outcome and the language used; the Court changed the approach often taken in copyright from a rights holder emphasized approach to a user-centric approach. As stated before showed a change of attitude within the judiciary, placing fair dealing not merely as an allowance provision, but as a set of intrinsic user rights that existed by virtue of the public's need to use their legally purchased material in ways which were not foreseen in the drafting of earlier laws. What the Canadian Supreme Court did was bring fair dealing closer to the 21st century, and brought it back into life. 

This case and ones after it spurred the Canadian Parliament to act and a piece of legislation was introduced, the Copyright Modernization Act, which brought the old laws more in line with the Internet, clarified the position of internet service providers and permitted certain acts of copying by consumers.

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