Meera Nair

Posts Tagged ‘theses’

ten years on

In Posts on July 30, 2019 at 8:12 pm

Ten years have passed now since Fair Duty came into existence. In July 2009, having recently completed my doctorate, the title to my dissertation served as inspiration for the name of my blog. (Had I known then that this venture in writing would continue beyond a decade, I might have named it something else.) My dissertation had involved examining university policies with respect to application of fair dealing in the hands of graduate students, doctoral candidates in particular. That project had been prompted by my own earlier experiences.

Just prior to the unveiling of CCH Canadian v. Law Society of Upper Canada —a unanimous decision by the Supreme Court of Canada, affirming fair dealing in the realm of research—I was at the post-defense, deposit-the-thesis, stage of my MA and thus jumping through the requisite copyright-hoops. After reading CCH, and looking forward with the naiveté of a doctoral student, I assumed the end of institutional limitations on students-and-fair dealing was nigh. Yet during my data gathering of 2007, 2008 (and confirmed again in 2009), it was evident that policies concerning use of copyright-protected material by graduate students still reflected a pre-CCH attitude.

Any disappointment with my own community was mitigated by the one inescapable challenge that faced institutions and students alike: meeting the copyright stipulations of Library and Archives Canada (LAC). Before digital distribution became the norm, that venerable institution offered greater exposure and enjoyment of graduate students’ works, through the medium of microform. At that time, the condition for inclusion with LAC was to abide by stringent rules with respect to use of third-party work in theses and dissertations. Even in 2009, CCH’s promise was not enough to overcome fair dealing’s ill-fated twentieth century history. (More on that another day.)

(Fortunately, LAC’s conditions now reflect an awareness that fair dealing is relevant to graduate students’ work; although LAC does so without actually using the words “fair dealing.”)

Ten years ago, I came to the conclusion that, whether driven by caution or misunderstanding, or both, Canadian institutions regarded fair dealing as lawful in the hands of a student, up to the point of depositing a thesis or dissertation in the institution’s library. But thereafter, with the added exposure through LAC and potential for further distribution, institutions appeared to believe that fair dealing no longer applied.

Today, despite favorable (almost coaxing) judicial and statutory developments of fair dealing, perhaps because deposit now means in a publicly available institutional repository, I wonder if caution might still be narrowing institutional positions on fair dealing, when exercised towards the creation of a thesis or dissertation by graduate students.

If apprehension still exists, David Vaver beckons. He has spoken to these issues for over 20 years. Apart from numerous journal articles, he has also written three books: Intellectual Property Law: Copyright, Patents, Trade-marks, (1997), Copyright Law (2000), and Intellectual Property LawCopyright, Patents, Trade-marks (2nd ed. 2011).

Before even touching fair dealing, Vaver would remind us all to begin from first principles—what is copyright?

Section 3.1 of the Copyright Act states: “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 … .”

If a reproduction is insubstantial then copyright does not arise. And if one needs more than the inherent logic of that conclusion, in CCH the Supreme Court of Canada indicated, 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 (para. 56).”

Beginning then from the question of substantiality, and drawing from all three of Vaver’s books:

One should first screen out what cannot in law be a substantial part. ‘Part’ means ‘portion’ not ‘particle.’ A copyright owner cannot therefore control every particle of her work, any little piece the taking of which cannot affect the value of her work as a whole. Copying ten such particles is as inoffensive as copying one.

The lesson here is to curtail any temptation to measure the aggregate of uses from a single third-party source.

Vaver, of course, acknowledges that quantity alone does not determine substantiality; quality is a consideration. As he wrote in various ways, is the taking of something distinctive from a third-party work? Is it something into which the author expended “skill, effort or ingenuity.” Is it the heart of the work? In the context of academic research, it may be that the answer is “Yes.” When developing one’s own ideas, we are looking for portions of other works that exemplify either their merits or shortcomings. This is how we form the basis of our own analyses and from there derive new conclusions.

And that is precisely why we have fair dealing. To encourage research (and other activities beneficial to the public interest) that relies on reproduction of substantial parts of other works.

In Copyright Law (2000), and again in his 2011 publication, Vaver specifically addressed the nexus of research, fair dealing, and graduate students’ works:

A doctoral thesis is clearly written for research purposes, even though copies are routinely deposited in the National Library and other public libraries and the thesis is destined for publication. Research is part of process that routinely involves dissemination of results and supporting evidence to facilitate further research, including open review, criticism and verification (emphasis mine).

It is worth remembering that Copyright Law lay at the heart of CCH. And Vaver’s 2011 book was also cited in SOCAN v. Bell (2012), another, unanimous, Supreme Court decision relevant to fair dealing in research.

More precisely, in SOCAN, the Supreme Court gave a resounding “Yes” to the question of whether music previews constituted fair dealing in the hands of consumers. That affirmation came by affording consumer-activity recourse to the word “research.” Readers may recall that the Court was asked to weigh in on the very nature of what “research” is:

 SOCAN offers the definition of “research” as being “the systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions.” Moreover, SOCAN argues, the goal of the “research” must be for the purpose of making creative works, since only uses that contribute to the creative process are in the public interest (para. 20.)

The Supreme Court disagreed with SOCAN’s definition:

Limiting research to creative purposes would also run counter to the ordinary meaning of “research”, which can include many activities that do not demand the establishment of new facts or conclusions. It can be piecemeal, informal, exploratory, or confirmatory. It can in fact be undertaken for no purpose except personal interest. It is true that research can be for the purpose of reaching new conclusions, but this should be seen as only one, not the primary component of the definitional framework (para. 22.)

Good news as this was, it is worth noting that SOCAN’s desired (narrower) definition of research, “systematic investigation … study of materials… to establish facts and reach new conclusions,” very neatly encapsulates what graduate students do. Furthermore, through writing theses and dissertations, those same students are making creative works, and thus still meet SOCAN’s view that serving the public interest only occurs through creation of literary, dramatic, artistic and musical works. If one takes SOCAN’s opinion as representative of the preferred stance of copyright-owners, it is reassuring to see that graduate student work would have no difficulty in qualifying as “research” under those expectations.

But of course, settling the purpose of the use is only the first step of determining fair dealing.

In terms of the fairness analysis, SOCAN was not a particularly taxing occasion for the Court. With recourse to CCH and the earlier Copyright Board decision on this matter, the remainder of the analysis was dispatched with great efficiency (paras. 37-49). One element carries neatly into the topic at hand; it arose under the exploration of whether there are alternatives to consumers using previews when choosing music for purchase. The Court reminded us that: “A dealing may be less fair if there is a non-copyrighted equivalent of the work that could have been used, or if the dealing was not reasonably necessary to achieve the ultimate purpose (emphasis mine, para. 44).”

SOCAN had “argued that there were other methods available, like advertising, to help users identify potential music for purchase. Many of the service providers, for example, offered album artwork, textual descriptions, and user-generated album reviews (para. 45).” But the Court declined to accept that argument, concurring instead with the Copyright Board’s earlier assessment that “[l]istening to a preview probably is the most practical, most economical and safest way for users to ensure that they purchase what they wish (para. 46).”

This is the crux of the matter from where to consider whether inclusion of a work, or a portion thereof, is fair dealing. Herein is why a dealing will be “reasonably necessary.” Because the inclusion must be in aid of the purpose of the user. In this context, a research question must have been addressed. Therefore, inclusion of third-party work, must support the process of exploration necessary to meet this goal.

Crafting the work that conveys this scholarly journey, making those decisions about inclusion of other works, these are functions that invariably flow from engagement between student and supervisor; and later, with the examining committee. These senior members of the field will be looking for students’ own voices—their own expression of their own ideas—buttressed by other voices, but only as needed to confirm the student’s mastery or skill with the subject. An excessive quotation will be called out, as will gratuitous illustrations. The legitimacy of what was used and how much was used, depend on the subject and the particular method of exploration, and the guidance of experts in the field.

It is not the purview of copyright practitioners to assess the use of those other works; those decisions are the responsibility of qualified members within each discipline, under whose aegis the work is offered. Lest that should alarm the professoriate, their responsibility is discharged simply by remaining true to the principles of the vocation they have chosen.

By virtue of successful completion of a graduate degree, the most vital element of the fairness analysis—as to why specific uses of third-party works are necessary—will have been successfully navigated.