Meera Nair

a lesson from the Copyright Board

In Posts on May 31, 2015 at 7:35 am

On 22 May 2015 the Copyright Board released its decision concerning tariff rates for copying carried out in provincial and territorial governments (excluding that of the Province of Quebec). The rates set by the Board fell far short of what Access Copyright had requested; some commentaries indicate that the returns would not cover the costs of the tariff proceedings.

The Board came to its decision via a number of factors, including: (i) scrutinizing Access Copyright’s claim of the extent of both its repertoire and business relations; (ii) deferring appropriately to fair dealing, given the integral nature of the exception within the system of copyright; and (iii) being mindful that copyright only applies when a substantial part of a work has been reproduced.

For commentary, see Michael Geist (here and here), Howard Knopf (here and here), Bob Tarantino (here) and Bobby Glushko (here). To which I add my own. The decision underlines that institutional systems of fair dealing, which includes assessment of substantiality (the threshold of copyright), remain contextual affairs. This lesson is not transparently evident, but it is there.

Copyright owners receive their rights through Section 3.1 of the Copyright Act: “For the purposes of this Act, “copyright”, in relation to a work, means the sole right to produce or reproduce the work or any substantial part thereof in any material form whatever … .” Thus, if the reproduction is insubstantial then copyright does not arise.  This was explicitly stated in CCH Canadian (2004); as Tarantino writes : “… the Supreme Court of Canada [indicates] in its discussion of fair dealing, that where “the amount taken from a work is trivial, the fair dealing analysis need not be undertaken at all because the court will have concluded that there was no copyright infringement.”

But as Tarantino (and the Copyright Board) remind us, the Supreme Court has also indicated, via Robinson v Cinar (2013), that substantiality is “a flexible notion … a matter of fact and degree”, to be decided “by its quality rather than its quantity.”

In its discussion about substantiality, the Board concluded that: “… without the benefit of a qualitative analysis and without even knowing which portions of a work were copied, … 1 to 2 pages of a work [to a maximum of 2.5% of the entire work] are a reasonable approximation in establishing non-substantiality (para. 204).” This measure has been greeted with enthusiasm but it is imperative that educational institutions not sleep walk into creating a de facto ceiling to insubstantiality. It bears emphasizing that the Board has contextualized its own remarks; this measure is appropriate when little or no information is available about the copying.

In terms of institutional practices–where post-secondary communities have endeavoured to develop resources and engage personnel, all to assist faculty in their understanding of appropriate uses of copyrighted material–it is viable to apply a qualitative assessment and allow for the possibility of copying more.

In Intellectual Property (2011), David Vaver makes a valuable point in connection to assessment of substantiality: “One should first screen out what cannot in law be a substantial part. ‘Part’ means ‘portion’ not ‘particle.’ … Copying ten such particles is as inoffensive as copying one (p.182-183).” As is often quoted, but appears not to receive sufficient consideration, facts are not eligible for copyright. Furthermore, processes are unlikely to meet the threshold of originality to be granted copyright. (Arguably, it is ill-advised to be creative when teaching students a process.) It is then likely that in fields of natural science, life science, mathematics and computer science, the threshold of substantiality may be higher. Even in fields typically considered to be more creative, it remains possible that a taking of more than 2.5% will not contravene substantiality when the qualitative analysis is undertaken.

The Copyright Board’s statement should be read in the same spirit as the Fair Dealing Guidelines developed by the Association of Universities and Colleges Canada (AUCC) and Colleges and Institutes Canada (CIC). Those instructions are baselines supporting legitimate unauthorized copying and more copying is always a possibility when individuals are suitably informed, or have access to informed support. It is the combination of baseline rules and discretionary support that constitute an institutional practice of fair dealing.

The Board takes note of the Supreme Court’s measured approach to unauthorized copying in institutional settings:

In CCH, the Supreme Court of Canada stated that fair dealing can be made out either by demonstrating that there exists a general practice that is based upon an enumerated fair-dealing purpose, and, is in fact, fair, or by demonstrating that a particular copying event … was fair dealing (para. 223, citing para. 63 of CCH Canadian).

It was the lack of a robust practice on the part of the provincial and territorial governments involved in the tariff negotiations that resulted in the Board’s scrupulous attention to every incident of copying in the evidentiary sample collected in agreement with Access Copyright and the governments (paras. 223-225).

Generally speaking, post-secondary educational practices in Canada are closely modeled upon the Great Library Access Policy that was at issue in CCH Canadian. Meaning, the policy prescribes minimums, with copying beyond the minimum contingent upon informed discussion. But informed discussion itself can unwittingly be curtailed. Fortunately, the Board reminds institutions to avoid slavish attention to rules to the extent of diminishing the contextual nature of fair dealing. As readers likely know, in CCH Canadian, the Supreme Court followed six factors with which to explore the fair dealing issue at hand; the Board emphasizes that these factors themselves must not become rigid: “… the list of factors … is not an exhaustive list, and fairness is a matter of impression.” The Board continues with a quotation from the work of Giuseppina D’Agostino:

[p]arties pleading fair dealing, and courts ultimately deciding those events, should exercise flexibility when interpreting fair dealing: raise factors germane to the case and assess evidence to support them. Whether there are six factors, seven factors, or four factors should not be the driving preoccupation … (para. 267 citing p. 197 of  The Copyright Pentalogy).

A timely reminder as the post-secondary community moves forward with solidifying their institutional systems of fair dealing.

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