Great Day For Canadian Copyright: Supreme Court Issues Five (Count 'Em) Rulings Supporting Fair Dealing And Fewer Tariffs
from the proud-day dept
Canadian copyright is undergoing huge changes. The copyright reform bill is very close to becoming law, bringing with it some fantastic new fair dealing provisions (though unfortunately along with a significant downside in the form of digital locks rules), and now the Supreme Court has stepped in with a series of major rulings that reinforce users' rights and begin the process of cleaning up the mess that is Canada's copyright tariff system. This morning, the court published five separate judgements in cases related to tariffs and royalties, and each one contains significant victories for smarter copyright law.
There is a lot to dig into in this series of rulings, and some complex legal questions involved in some portions, but each one also makes clear statements. In the first case, between Alberta schools and the copyright collective Access Copyright, the court found that photocopies for classroom use can be covered by the "research" provisions of fair dealing. In the second case, between videogame publishers and a music collection society, the court found that selling videogames does not constitute a new public performance of the music they contain, and thus does not require a public performance royalty (yes—the Copyright Board and Federal Court of Appeals had both previously ruled that transmitting videogames with music in them counts as "communication to the public"). Similarly, in the third case, the court found that films which contain music are also not public performances requiring an additional royalty (on that one, the lower courts had gotten it right and also refused to certify the tariff). In the fourth case, the court affirmed that while streaming music to users is a public performance, offering music for download is not—so services like iTunes also don't have to pay additional performance royalties. Finally, in the ruling that may get the most attention, the court found that 30 second previews of songs provided by online music services qualify as fair dealing for the purposes of research—a battle that has been going on for a long time in Canada and is now, finally, put to rest.
The rulings also contain a lot of very important language that will have a lasting impact beyond these specific scenarios. The Supreme Court reaffirms the fact that fair dealing must have a "large and liberal" interpretation, and set down some clear restrictions on the power of the Copyright Board. Howard Knopf does an excellent job of summing up some of the important points and broader themes of these five landmark rulings:
- Collectives cannot assume that they will be entitled to an additional "layer" of remunerated rights every time there is a new method of delivery. Technological neutrality matters.
- The Court said what it meant and meant what is said in CCH v. LSUC in 2004 and will move forward from there - not be pushed backwards.
- Users have rights that must be given a "large and liberal interpretation". Copyright doesn't exist solely for collectives.
- Educators are in a "symbiotic" relationship with students and the Copyright Act serves the goal of education, which includes access to essential material
- Copyright law is both about "protection" and "access"
- Copyright law is about "dissemination"
- "Research" is not restricted to "creative purposes". Consumer research counts too. Research can even be for "personal interest". There is no absolute requirement for "transformative" use in Canada
- The user's purpose is the one that counts in fair dealing
- Practices that increase the sale of work cannot be said to have a negative impact on the work
- The concept "public" must be considered in light of new technology, technological neutrality and the purpose of the legislation. The fact that communication may be interactive on an individual basis does not mean that it cannot be considered to be to the "public"
- When the statute uses a word such as "excludes", it means it. The word is not superfluous.
- Parliament did not intend to "recognize a superior expertise of the [Copyright] Board relative to the courts with respect to legal questions arising under the Copyright Act". On copyright questions of "first instance", the Board will get no more deference that any court would get. In other words, the Board must be "correct". It will not be sufficient that it merely be "reasonable"
One of the groups that is likely to be hit the hardest by these rulings is Access Copyright. We've covered the fact that Canada's university association struck a terrible deal with Access Copyright for the clearance of educational materials, and several major Canadian unversities are refusing to sign on. This Supreme Court case was not directly dealing with that situation (it covers only primary and secondary schools), but the ruling contains a complete tear-down of Access Copyright's entire business model which applies every bit as much to universities and colleges. Michael Geist walks through the point-by-point dismantling of all Access Copyright's standard arguments against fair dealing, leaving them very few legs to stand on moving forward. For those universities that plan to clear their own copyrights, this is a very big win—for those that didn't have the resources to keep fighting after the AUCC abandoned them, it just highlights how bad of a deal they got.
Copyright law in Canada has its problems—first and foremost the extremely bad digital locks rules that will come into effect with Bill C-11. But, increasingly, and most notably at the Supreme Court level, we've also been making significant strides in the right direction, using legal language that displays a clear understanding of both modern realities and the need for balance in copyright law. There are still important battles to be fought, but today the Supreme Court gave us a huge arsenal of new weapons.