Copyright Win for the People of Canada

There were some not-so-small victories in the recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling Thursday on copyright and fair dealing. Americans have “fair use”, and Canadians have “fair dealing”. There is so much common sense in the court ruling, I can’t help but feel that the justices must have taken leave of their old-people senses! They’ve justified the standard operating procedures of students and teachers in the country.

Copyright expert Michael Geist has this summary: “[…] 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.”

Next time you have an event at a rented hall like the Turvey Centre in Regina, perhaps you won’t be made to pay a ridiculous SOCAN fee for playing pre-recorded music. My, how that got my goat when I saw the fee in the contract for my wedding reception last year.

Now teachers won’t feel threatened by Access Copyright for simply photocopying a book their library or school has legally purchased from the publisher. The court ruled that the act of studying can take place anywhere, and it’s the studying that is protected, not the public location of the copyrighted material being studied which needs less protection. That actually makes sense! Why would the right to study duplicates of copyrighted material only exist in private, at home, and not in a classroom or library?

Schools as a result of this ruling, may have millions of dollars more a year, across the country. Access Copyright in recent years lost a lot of universities as “customers”, when photocopy licensing fees increased many times over. When some universities, like the University of Regina, balked at paying the higher fees, they made an effort to educate staff on ways to legally disseminate information to students. One solution was making greater use of online library resources, through online classroom systems like Moodle. Libraries pay a lot of money for access to full-text databases of journals, newspapers, and other copyrighted primary research material. It’s unclear to me what sort of impacts the current Supreme Court ruling may have on Access Copyright’s negotiations with universities, but I’d guess their position is greatly weakened.

Still, not all of the ruling makes sense. “Downloading” and “streaming” don’t really differ from a technological server/client perspective, except that streamed downloads are typically not saved by the player, although they can be saved. Is that stream then a download, and ineligible for SOCAN demonetization? Seems like an easy loophole. Perhaps digging into the ruling further, we’ll figure that out.

What will copyrighted content creators think of this ruling? I can easily guess that many are displeased, while others are cheering the move that lets their work be shared more openly with more people. The information economy feeds on information, and the Supreme Court has potentially opened the flood gates in a few important ways.


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