Meera Nair

interrupting Kirtsaeng

In Posts on April 10, 2013 at 4:32 pm

My planned third and final installment of Kirtsaeng must wait a little longer; Access Copyright is once again trying to roll back the interpretation of fair dealing fostered in Canada by both the Supreme Court of Canada and the Government of Canada. This progressive interpretation took shape slowly, with Court decisions spanning 2002-2012  and Government efforts at amendment benefiting from more than ten years of deliberation. Both bodies took measured steps that recognize the importance of maintaining copyright’s limits. Access Copyright is setting its sights on the educational community that took guidance from the government and the Court. Access Copyright states:

Canada’s writers and publishers take a stand against damaging interpretations of fair dealing by the education sector.  Access Copyright is taking legal action—on three fronts. The actions focus on York University, ministries of education, school boards and post‐secondary institutions that copy—and promote the copying—of copyright‐protected materials without a licence.

In the available statement of claim, Access Copyright identifies five members of York University as having:

…  reproduced, in whole or substantial part, and authorized the reproduction by students and third-party copyright-shops, in whole or substantial part, of more than one copyright-protected work within the Repertoire. … Each separate act of reproduction … has been undertaken without the consent or permission of the plaintiff…

(According to the statement of claim, details are available in Schedule B; this schedule is not posted online.)

Access Copyright places the blame for the individuals’ alleged infringement upon York University’s Fair Dealing Guidelines:

The arbitrary and purely mathematical extent and systematic, recurring nature of the reproduction and dealing with copyright-protected works authorized and encouraged by such guidelines is not encompassed within the fair dealing exemption under the Copyright Act.

The Copyright Act does not stipulate precise conditions of fair dealing for the reason that fair dealing must meet the flexibility inherent to the purposes it serves (research, private study, education, parody, satire, criticism/review, and news reporting). York University, like many educational institutions, has a conservative framework of what is an allowable amount and takes pains to explain the fullness of a decision of fair dealing. Drawing from CCH Canadian, York lays out questions to be asked and emphasizes: “The circumstances that qualify within the Fair Dealing Exception may vary from case to case.”

Michael Geist describes Access Copyright’s behaviour for what it is: a “desperate declaration of war against fair dealing”. He reminds us that Access Copyright’s last effort to challenge fair dealing in educational institutions resulted in failure (decided by the Supreme Court in July 2012, commentary available from here). Recycling failed arguments hardly seems like good strategy. But Access Copyright reveals an added objective, surveillance and control of all copying within post-secondary institutions:

In any event, such guidelines, are incapable of any effective, reliable or consistent enforcement by the defendant. All such purported “fair dealing” limits have been and will be regularly exceeded by the acts of reproduction and authorized reproduction by the Educators and the defendant’s students.

To suggest that students regularly exceed the limits of fair dealing is an odd tactic. The majority of fair dealing’s purposes are tasks implicitly and explicitly carried out every day in the course of educating oneself. And fair dealing is at its strongest in the hands of an individual — far from the modest 10% allowance of a work permitted in the guidelines, entire works are conceivably eligible for reproduction when a student or researcher chooses to delve into a subject. And when operating with supplemental material, the Supreme Court decision of last summer offers teachers strong support for standing in the shoes of their students. Until further details of this case come to light, nothing more can be said about the merits (or lack thereof) of Access Copyright’s claim.

All that is evident now is Access Copyright’s willingness to distort the operation of copyright to give their grievance a greater sense of pathos: “It’s harmful to arbitrarily take materials for free, without permission, without respect or regard for the sustainability of content essential for students and teachers alike.” Fair dealing is precisely the taking of materials for free, without permission. It ensures that copyright does not devolve into an instrument of absolute control, with the concomitant loss of creativity that would follow. And to suggest that fair dealing is responsible for the lack of “sustainability of content essential for students and teachers alike” ignores the behaviour of the publishing sector itself.

Which leads me back to Kirtsaeng. Next time.

Update – April 11: Howard Knopf has all the initial documents, including Schedule B, available at Excess Copyright.  But Schedule B only lists the works copied, no detail is provided as to what role those works played in the learning activity between the teachers and students.  Without more information, it is not possible to judge whether copying the works was infringement or fair dealing.

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