Meera Nair

AC, AUCC and CAUT – making sense out of acronyms

In Posts on June 18, 2011 at 10:13 pm

Two days ago Access Copyright (AC) posted some remarks titled “Fair Dealing in the Post-Secondary Environment.” These were directed at the Fair Dealing Policy of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC). Which raises a question – what is the AUCC policy on fair dealing?  At this time, there is no specific information at their website. (In the copyright section the last document posted is dated to February 15, 2011 – it contains the remarks of AUCC President Paul Davidson to the legislative committee for Bill C-32.)

Fortunately, Google is there to help and I found the AUCC policy in the University of British Columbia Library Collections. Unfortunately, it reads like an amalgam of rote text from the Copyright Act coupled with previous Access Copyright licenses. This does not facilitate what presumably was the objective of the policy: to help people understand what fair dealing is and when it can be used.

Moreover, I am troubled by some of the AUCC stipulations which are then further stiffened in the hands of AC.  For instance, according to AUCC, fair dealing does not permit “making copies of required readings for library reserve.”  The AC interpretation leads to “required course readings cannot be put on library reserve.”  Neither position reflects the traditional use of reserves – to ensure that all students have a means of accessing and reading required course material. And fair dealing draws legitimacy, in part, from past custom. A point also emphasized by the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT); their fair dealing guidelines are more accurate in terms of the law and more clearly written.

AC does its best to distance the AUCC guidelines from legitimate activity, stating that:

Institutions must also understand that the AUCC Fair Dealing Policy is not sanctioned by rights holders or Access Copyright. The policy will be the subject of heated debate at the Copyright Board. The Board or the courts may determine that some of the copying activity sanctioned by the AUCC policy is not fair dealing.

Given the extremely conservative nature of the AUCC policy it is hard to imagine that an institution following those instructions would incur the wrath of any court. The greater risk of the AUCC policy is that students, staff, teachers and librarians will come to see it as an upper bound on fair dealing. Furthermore, the merit of an unauthorized exception to copyright will be blunted with the excessive administrative processes called for by AUCC.

To understand fair dealing, one ought to review its history.  But in the absence of a comprehensive study, the minimal starting point is CCH Canadian (2004). As the Federal Court of Appeal noted in 2010, no discussion of fair dealing can occur without reference to this case.

To their credit, AC mentions CCH Canadian and gives a pertinent quotation:

The Supreme Court of Canada on Fair Dealing
“To conclude, the purpose of the dealing, the character of the dealing, the amount of the dealing, the nature of the work, available alternatives to the dealing and the effect of the dealing on the work are all factors that could help determine whether or not a dealing is fair. These factors may be more or less relevant to assessing the fairness of a dealing depending on the factual context of the allegedly infringing dealing. In some contexts, there may be factors other than those listed here that may help a court decide whether the dealing was fair.” (para. 60)

The CAUT guidelines give a little more information about these six factors, but readers would do well to also look at an earlier CAUT Intellectual Property Advisory (2008) which describes the fair dealing aspects of CCH Canadian in detail. (Or you can read my account here.) Navigating fair dealing is easier when policy rules are set upon context.

And as far as sorting out the instructions of AUCC and the interpretation of AC, that will take longer than a blog post.

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