Tuesday, August 08, 2023

Access Copyright’s Conspicuous Copyright Canards as Enabled and Empowered by the Globe and Mail

The Globe and Mail has recently published three misleading and seriously inaccurate opinion pieces about Canadian copyright law from authors who should know better, given their backgrounds. They are from Kate Taylor dated May 26, 2023August 2, 2023 and Hugh Stephens, July 15, 2023One might have expected better basic fact checking from what is supposedly Canada’s “national newspaper” and/or “newspaper of record” of conspicuous copyright canards.

Both authors advocate for changing Canada’s copyright law to impose potentially great mandatory costs on the post-secondary education (“PSE”) sector in favour the very controversial and arguably obsolete organization known as Access Copyright (“AC”), which purports to collect royalties for the reproduction of its members works by organizations such as governments and PSE institutions.  Mr. Stephen’s opinion piece conveniently follows up just two days later on the announcement by Access Copyright (“AC”) that it was downsizing and restructuring. This all seems to be highly orchestrated by AC. And Yahoo News  republished a pathetic press release from Access Copyright.

Both the Globe and Mail and the National Post have failed to respond to my op-ed submissions. Maybe they both are myopically sympathetic to the copyright maximalists? Have these bastions of Canadian Main Stream Media (“MSM”) drunk too much of the copyright Kool-Aid? How independent or professional is the Canadian MSM anymore? The glory days of Canadian op-ed pieces in MSM sadly ended a long time ago.

AC has indeed seen its revenues drop since 2012 but falsely blames this on the purely coincidental amendment that year of the fair dealing provisions of Canada’s Copyright Act that added the word “education”. However, there is no factual or legal basis to suggest that this amendment has had anything whatsoever to do with AC’s deservedly declining fortunes.

The users’ fair dealing rights relied on by the PSE sector have been in place for more than a century since at least 1921 and have been affirmed and confirmed by numerous judicial decisions, including four from the Supreme Court of Canada since 2004. These include two from 2012 and one from 2021 that were not based on the 2012 amendment.

The Americans have seen “fair use” (counterpart to “fair dealing”) rights hardwired into their law since 1976 for “teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research…”. There is no reason for Canadian educators and students to be at a comparative disadvantage to their American counterparts, especially when American publishers are perhaps the main driving force behind AC. Moreover, Americans would choke at the socialist notion of “mandatory” copyright tariffs, which Canada’s Supreme Court categorically rejected in 2021 based in large measure on my submissions on behalf of the Canadian Association of Research Libraries.

Since 2012, the Canadian PSE sector has been spending far more and far smarter on fair payments for authors by way of licences, acquisitions of print or digital material, and targeted procedures to ensure that deserving authors get actually paid. AC is arguably the worst possible vehicle to ensure such payments. Its non-transparent repertoire is mostly irrelevant in the PSE sector. Former U of T Dean of law Marin Friedland exposed the problems of AC’s methodology in 2007 and there has been  no apparent evidence of improvement. The bottom line is that AC has long ceased to offer any useful value for its PSE licences.

The kind of changes that that AC and its supporters are calling for may very well be not only unwise but also unconstitutional.  Education, as well as property and civil rights, are provincial jurisdiction. Freedom of expression is guaranteed by the federal Charter.

What Lies Ahead

We have just had a cabinet shuffle. Sadly, shamefully, and for no apparent reason other than cynical electoral optimization, the Hon. David Lametti, Minister of Justice, has been dumped out of cabinet by PM Justin Trudeau. While copyright was never directly part of Lametti’s portfolio, he was by far the most legally learned member of the current Government and Minister of Justice for a very long time. His potentially moderating and deeply informed influence will be missed. Ms. Taylor has implied that his expertise in copyright may have led to him being pushed from cabinet. She writes: “Coincidentally, another cabinet change might help get the job done. Publishing insiders have long suspected one roadblock was former justice minister David Lametti, known as a supporter of so-called users’ rights." Prior to his public service, he was a highly respected academic at McGill law school and certainly a leading expert in copyright, as I know from working with him on an important Supreme Court of Canada case just before he was elected in 2015 and even long before.

And we now have Pascale St-Onge replacing Pablo Rodriguez as Heritage Minister. Her CV will play out very well in Quebec, from whence all of Trudeau’s previous Heritage Ministers have not coincidentally hailed. She and Trudeau are plainly pandering to a Quebec audience first and foremost. However, if Minister St-Onge is well advised, she will realize that copyright law is not a Quebec based hill or bill to die on. She might wish to ask Sheila Copps, Sarmite Bulte, and others about that.

The other responsible minister, who actually should be primarily in charge of copyright law and policy, is F-P Champagne of Innovation, Science and Industry. He has apparently been missing in action on this file but remains in place in cabinet. He may be mindful that the copyright file is presumptively toxic and is best avoided, if possible, especially for someone who may have leadership aspirations. AC is now targeting him in a mass email to its affiliates, on its website,  and doubtlessly directly.

Sadly, we will likely see policy on these issues dictated by “kids in short pants” at the PMO and even the apparently too politicized PCO – who have little or no substantive expertise and only care about politics and career aspirations. We could see a replay of Bill C-18 with some kind of bogus superficial “adjacent’ or “neighouring right” pretext for forcing a mandatory tariff for rights that don’t exist onto the PSE sector, to be paid for by Canadian provinces and ultimately Canadian students. The financial cost could be huge and the chill on Canadian education, research and private study ultimately even more costly. All this to enable Access Copyright to spend a fortune on salaries, lawyers, lobbyists – and to distribute what amounts to once-a-year lunch money to many if not most of its creator affiliates?

For better or worse, there is no sign that anyone, such as Google, is going to challenge the constitutionality of Bill C-18 in court, even though very credible commentators such as Konrad von Finckenstein and Phillip Palmer have done so in writing.

Above all, the educational sector and other user groups need to step up to the plate. Universities Canada has failed to provide satisfactory leadership on copyright for at least three decades. Hopefully, this could change with a new president – but I’m not holding my breath. U of T’s revised fair dealing guidelines are a step backwards. Canada’s “U15” group of leading research universities needs to speak forcefully. We need to see the PSE academy and responsible smaller organizations with less resources but more insight, ability, and agility step forward and write their own op-eds (assuming the MSM might publish them), do their own effective lobbying (i.e. actually meeting with Ministers), and develop their own updated fair dealing guidelines.


Howard Knopf is a policy provocateur who, after 43 years, is no longer “practising law”. He has argued four very influential interventions in copyright cases in the Supreme Court of Canada. He is an active blogger on copyright and related issues and is an affiliate of Access Copyright.


Wednesday, July 26, 2023

The Shrill Shrieking of Access Copyright and the Coming Copyright Confrontation

For the second time in recent weeks, the Globe Mail – supposedly Canada’s “newspaper of record” - has published highly misleading and embarrassingly over the top op eds from authors who really should know better, given their notable backgrounds. No doubt they mean well and aren’t beholden to Access Copyright – but their opinions are so over the top and poorly informed that they have a very bad look:

Kate Taylor, May 26, 2023

Hugh Stephens, July 15, 2023

Hugh Stephens’ opinion piece conveniently follows up just two days later on the announcement by Access Copyright (“AC”) that it was downsizing and restructuring.

And this, from the shrill Quill and Quire piece dated July 19, 2023.

First, let’s get some big misunderstandings (including what some might say are “big lies”, but I presume no deliberate intent to prevaricate or be mendacious) off the table. More detail follows below:

  • AC does NOT collect for the mainstream of creators whose works are used in the Post Secondary Education (“PSE”) sector. It is believed to mainly represent authors of Canadian literature, which is a fringe area overall in the curricula of the PSE sector. AC’s actual repertoire remains something of an impenetrable black hole. Full disclosure – I’m a member and earn enough for one very modest lunch a year – which is more than some serious academic friends of mine.
  • AC’s incompetence and inability to fairly distribute its revenues to its creators has been known and documented for a long time, most famously in the 2007 report by Martin Friedland, former Dean of U of T Law School. There is no apparent reason to believe that things have significantly improved since then.
  • The decline in AC revenues over the last 11 years had NOTHING to do with the 2012 legislation that added the word “education” to s. 29 of the Copyright Act. The users’ fair dealing rights relied on by the PSE sector have been in place for more than a century since at least 1921 and have been affirmed and confirmed by countless judicial decisions, including four from the Supreme Court of Canada between 2004 and 2021, including the two of the 2012 “pentalogy” decisions and the 2021 York decision, that were not based the 2012 amendment.
  • The basic right of “fair use” (American counterpart to fair dealing) has been hardwired into US law since 1976, i.e. “teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research”. See 17 USC 107. There is no imaginable reason for Canadian educators and students to be at a comparative disadvantage to their American counterparts, especially when American publishers are a driving force – maybe even the main driving force - behind AC.
  • Since 2012, the Canadian PSE sector has been spending far more and far smarter on fair payment for authors by way of licenses of various kinds, acquisitions of print or digital material, and targeted procedures to ensure that deserving authors get paid. See this, for example, from CARL.  It’s just that AC is apparently the worst possible vehicle to ensure such payment. We don’t use a stagecoach anymore to get from Ottawa to Toronto – and there are no “mandatory tariffs” that require using one source or method of getting to there from here – especially via stagecoach.
  • AC was born and nourished by a sweetheart deal with the Federal Treasury Board in 80’s. It has been protected since then by the Feds the Copyright Board – but any justification for such protection, if it ever existed, has long expired.
  • The bottom line is that AC offers virtually no value at any price for its PSE licenses. And, of course, these “licences” are NOT MANDATORY.

Some History:

Once upon a time Access Copyright was known as CanCopy – until I and others inspired by former York University President Harry Arthurs - nicknamed it “Can’t Copy” – which was much more accurate.

My own blog is called Excess Copyright – a name inspired by Access Copyright.

Well, it seems that “excess” has not served Access Copyright (“AC”) very well. AC has excessively overreached with respect to:

  • Demanding excessive FTE payments for PSE students
  • Blaming the Conservative government for the 2012 (“Copyright Modernization Act” “CMA”) amendment that added the word “education” to the fair dealing purposes in the Copyright Act
  • Blaming the Liberal Government for not undoing this innocuous amendment, which has not resulted in any extension of users’ fair dealing rights not already explicitly blessed by three Supreme Court of Canada (“SCC”) decisions based on the law prior to the CMA
  • Purporting to have actual repertoire that is of any significance overall on the PSE system. AC’s actual repertoire – which is anything but transparent – is believed to consist mainly of Canadian literature. Such repertoire plays a minimal role in the PSE sector. Very few university and college graduates will ever be required to read Margaret Atwood, Alice Munroe or lesser literary luminaries in the course of their studies
  • Purporting to collect and remit payments for foreign repertoire
  • Refusing to meaningfully engage in transactional licenses, which are often successfully obtained from Acs overall more reasonable cousin in the USA, namely the Copyright Clearance Center
  • Barking noisily with no teeth to bite. Remember that AC has no standing to sue anyone for copyright infringement, since it is neither an assignee nor exclusive licensee of anyone. This was explicitly confirmed by the SCC in 2021 in the York case.

Once upon a time, AC was able to convince universities to hold their noses and pay a $3.38 FTE cost and offload the $0.10 per page “course pack” charge directly to students. Of course, paper course packs have gone the way of the horse and buggy. Moreover, the legally questionable “indemnity” that AC once offered that was an incentive to that dubious business model has long since been unavailable. I pointed out 24 years ago that AC never has been a licensed insurance company.

It will be recalled that for 2011-2013 AC wanted a mandatory FTE tariff to be set by the Copyright Board of (a) $45.00CAD for Universities; or (b) $35.00 CAD for all other Educational Institutions.

As AC excessively escalated its litigation strategy by then suing York University to enforce its “interim” tariff improvidently provided by the Copyright Board, from which no judicial review was sought due to the strategy of AUCC (now Universities Canada). While AUCC and York continued to spend money and go nowhere, some institutions realized that there was no need and no point in spending lots of money for little or no value. Ariel Katz started in his “hall of fame” and “hall of shame” list. He and I blogged at length about why tariffs should not be mandatory.

Ariel and I, along with a very smart young law professor named David Lametti, who later became Minister of Justice, made the prevailing arguments in the SCC in the 2015 case of
Canadian Broadcasting Corp. v. SODRAC 2003 Inc., 2015 SCC 57 (CanLII), [2015] 3 SCR 615, <
https://canlii.ca/t/gm8b0> namely that:

[113] I find that licences fixed by the Board do not have mandatory binding force over a user; the Board has the statutory authority to fix the terms of licences pursuant to s. 70.2, but a user retains the ability to decide whether to become a licensee and operate pursuant to that licence, or to decline.

That message did not, however, sink in to AC, AUCC or York. Instead, after years more of unnecessary litigation, during which York unnecessarily and unwisely “bet the farm” on the very poor AUCC fair dealing guidelines,  the SCC finally made it sufficiently explicit that AC’s tariffs are NOT MANDATORY in the PSE sector or elsewhere. Naturally, where tariffs are de facto in contrast to de jure mandatory, e.g. SOCAN tariffs for radio and TV stations, users will still keep on paying and the Copyright Board will hopefully do a much better job than it has done in recent decades of adjudicating any disagreements quickly and correctly.

Fast forward to the landmark SCC York decision in 2021 wherein York University very nearly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory but finally after 8 years fully and frontally faced the “mandatory tariff” and brought in the highly charismatic and ultra competent barrister Guy Pratte to adequately make the argument, at least on the “mandatory” issue, that York had effectively sidestepped before.

With all due credit to Mr. Pratte, my client CARL deserves full credit for empowering me to make the finally prevailing argument that:

  • Tariffs aren’t mandatory
  • Because the tariff isn’t mandatory, there was no live controversy about fair dealing that required the SCC to look at the bad AUCC/Universities Canada/York fair dealing guidelines devised by AUCC’s counsel years earlier.
  • While not necessary, the SCC at our behest did comment on some of the more egregious errors in the Courts below, e.g. re aggregate copyright.

Ariel Katz made his own supportive intervention that helped carry the day, ably presented by Sana Halwani.

Americans would shake their heads in total disbelief at the notion of a “mandatory tariff”, which would be a poorly disguised Canadian subsidy masquerading somehow as an authors’ “right” – like that $0.29 per blank CD we are forced to pay due to Copyright Board impotence (to be charitable) to prop up another long due for extinction collective, namely the CPCC.

Canada throws billions in subsidies at Volkswagen & Stellantis that will likely go down the toilet even if the EV bubble doesn’t burst soon given the competition from far more productive and efficient sources in China, Thailand or eve the USA….

Warning for Ministers

Do not pander to noisy demands from Quebec, where the mantra that more copyright is always better has caused mischief and damage for decades. If the Quebec government wants to shovel money at COPIBEC, let them. There is no reason for this folly to spread throughout Canada at the federal level.

Speaking of the federal level, the kind of changes that that AC and its supporters are calling for may very well be unconstitutional.  Education and property and civil rights are provincial jurisdiction. Freedom of expression is guaranteed by the Charter. There are many other issues. Proceed at your peril.

Liberal governments have tended to pander to copyright maximalists. But this hasn’t always had good results in either policy or politics. Ask Sheila Copps and Sarmite Bulte, for example.

What Lies Ahead

The current campaign of Access Copyright – and its gullible and shrill supporters ranging from Kate Taylor and Hugh Stephens to the usual and much  less credible suspects – should be disregarded by Government as the highly orchestrated public interest scam that it is.

And now  – we just now have had a cabinet shuffle. Sadly, Hon. David Lametti – Minister of Justice – is out. While copyright was never directly part of his portfolio, he was by far the most legally learned member of the previous Cabinet – or any cabinet for a very long time. His potentially moderating influence may be missed. He was certainly very knowledgeable about copyright – and was, as noted above,  involved in the important CBC v. SODRAC case that resulted in an important SCC decision that led up to the 2021 York decision.

And we now have Pascale St-Onge replacing Pablo Rodriguez as Heritage Minister. Her qualifications for this job include that she is from Quebec, played bass in a punk rock band, is the first out lesbian minister in Trudeau’s cabinet and was Minister of Sport. That’s enough to play out very well in Quebec, which is ultra-important to this government. Meanwhile, Pablo Rodriguez – who has left her with a huge mess – remains Quebec Lieutenant and is now, inexplicably, Minister of Transport. If Minister St-Onge is well advised, she will realize that copyright law is not a hill to die on. She might wish to ask Sheila Copps, Sarmite Bulte, and others about that.

The other minister, who should historically be primarily responsible for copyright law and policy, is FP Champagne of ISED, who remains in place. H may be mindful that the copyright file is presumptively toxic and is best avoided at all costs, especially for someone who may have leadership aspirations.

We wait in trepidation to see what the PMO will tell these ministers to do in  new mandate letters. The unfortunate breakdown of the old cabinet system and the centralization of policy making in a politicized and non-expert PMO means that professional public servants – whose policy influence has declined precipitously since the days of Pierre Trudeau – will be of little significance other than to make the PMO’s wishes their command.

Above all, the PSE sector and other use groups need to step up to the plate. Universities Canada cannot be counted upon for leadership. It has failed badly on this file for three decades – and particularly in the most recent. U of T’s new fair dealing guidelines are a major step backwards and are disappointing to most informed observers in the PSE sector. The retirement of U of T’s former general counsel Steve Moate has been a setback for balance and leadership within the influential “U15” group of leading Canadian research universities.

In searching for a new President, Universities Canada now has an opportunity to show more competence and leadership on these issues than it has in the las in the last three decades or so. Let us hope that that the right person can be found. However, this recruitment could take a while and the resulting course correction much longer in turn.

We need to see the responsible smaller organizations with less resources but more insight and ability step forward and write their own op-eds, do their own effective lobbying (i.e. meeting with Ministers), and develop their own updated fair dealing guidelines. Their silence after that Kate Taylor travesty was deafening. I believe that I was the only one who stepped forward and that was purely in my personal capacity.

We need to see a response to all of these big lies. Otherwise, given the absence of any competent ministerial leadership, we could be facing an impending debacle.


 PS: A reminder that I was involved in litigation regarding Access Copyright and the CPCC for a long time. However, I am now “not practicing law”.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

My ABC Copyright "Valedictory"

On 16/6/2023 I was honoured to give a keynote "Valedictory" address to the ABCCopyright  conference. Here are my slides. I hope I have encouraged some "militant librarians". Get ready for a major counterattack in fall re mandatory tariffs & fair dealing.


Monday, June 12, 2023

Blacklock’s Day of Reckoning?



For over nine years, Blacklock’s has pursued a remarkably determined litigation strategy that has involved nearly two dozen Federal Court lawsuits, including 13 against the Federal Government and its agencies. Its efforts against the Federal Government have been notably unsuccessful and none of its efforts against other parties have resulted in any successful legal precedents from Blacklock’s standpoint. On June 7-9, 2023, the Federal Court heard a summary judgment motion brought by the Government with a public interest intervention by CIPPIC that could bring this litany of litigation to the end.  The motion was heard by Justice Yvan Roy, a very thorough and experienced judge. and his decision is pending.

I’ve written about Blacklock’s litigation many times before. See here. I don’t normally comment on cases where judgment is pending – but this is an exception that calls out for comment because of its public interest importance and its unique long history.

The Attorney General of Canada (“AGC”) was represented by its counsel, Alexander Gay. Blacklock’s was represented by Scott Miller of MBM.  The intervener on behalf of the public interest was CIPPIC, represented by James Plotkin of Gowlings. These are all very experienced counsel.

Here are some brief point form observations based on the written material in the case. I did not actually attend the hearing, which was held “live” and was not virtual or hybrid, so it was not available via Zoom:

  • A very important case – as shown by the unusually great role of intervener CIPPIC in terms of length of memo (20 pages) and time – and hour and then extended. Indeed, having resisted CIPPIC’s involvement, Blacklock’s ultimately engaged – with an 18-page response of CIPPIC’s important public interest submissions
  • No hacking or decrypting involved here
  • No evidence of any attempt to “descramble a scrambled work or decrypt an encrypted work or to otherwise avoid, bypass, remove, deactivate or impair the technological protection measure” (highlight added)
  • The law does NOT clearly cover simple sharing of a simple password in the definition of “circumvent” found in s. 41
  • No mention in legislation of the word or concept of “to share”
  • Just sharing of simple lawfully acquired password by a government worker so she could do her research job and collaborate with colleagues
  • No evidence of actual copyright infringement or other listed examples of circumvention
  • No expert evidence that the TPM was “effective”
  • Like sharing a hotel pass key with family members - or alarm system password with renovation contractors or cleaning staff, who then shares it with their employees or subcontractors?
  • Even if there somehow was “circumvention” in this case, is it trumped by any absence of evidence of infringing reproduction or, very importantly, trumped by “fair dealing”?
  • No piracy – this is not about getting free movies or music – it’s about government engaging in perfectly legal fair dealing…

In any case, there is an important previous ruling in 2016 that Government’s use of Blacklock material was clearly “fair dealing. There was a strong finding of fair dealing on the part of Government that public servants were just doing their research as allowed by the Copyright Act….

1395804 Ontario Ltd. v. Canada (Attorney General), 2016 FC 1255 (CanLII), [2017] 2 FCR 256, <https://canlii.ca/t/gvrbx>

[33]      I am satisfied that the Department’s acknowledged use of the two Blacklock’s articles constituted fair dealing. There is no question that the circulation of this news copy within the Department was done for a proper research purpose. There is also no question that the admitted scope of use was, in the circumstances, fair.

Blacklock’s could have, should have, but didn’t plead circumvention at the time and are now trying with a new counsel to do so in numerous lawsuits against 13 other Federal Government departments and agencies and presumably many others.

BTW, here is the applicable definition of “circumvent”:

circumvent means,

(a) in respect of a technological protection measure within the meaning of paragraph (a) of the definition technological protection measure, to descramble a scrambled work or decrypt an encrypted work or to otherwise avoid, bypass, remove, deactivate or impair the technological protection measure, unless it is done with the authority of the copyright owner…(highlight added)

There is great interest in this case and the outcome is eagerly awaited.


Tuesday, May 30, 2023

The Great Bill C-18 Constitutional Gamble and “The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo”

Bill C-18 (the so-called “Online News Act”), which is often referred to as the “link tax” bill, is very likely unconstitutional. There's been an excellent analysis of several reasons why this is the case by Konrad von Finckenstein and Phillip Palmer, whose joint and several expertise is quite formidable. 

These learned authors mention copyright and seem to acknowledge a possible connection to copyright – but I would go farther and add one more potentially final nail to the C-18 constitutional coffin. This involves copyright law. I would contend that there is not and cannot be any possible connection to copyright law. The bill has a few references to copyright that are either ill-conceived or perhaps included as Machiavellian tethers to support some sort of connection to constitutional mooring. Absent any valid connection to copyright law, where is the federal jurisdiction to be found?

In Canada there is no copyright in a “title” or headline as such or a short snippet not comprising a “substantial part” of the article. Thus, the issue of fair dealing doesn’t even arise & the reference to the Copyright Act is a constitutional red herring.

Also, a hyperlink by itself is not “publication”. It’s just a modern and more convenient form of the traditional footnote. It is the fundamental raison d'ĂȘtre of the internet.

One of my very favorite copyright cases of all time is that of  Francis, Day & Hunter Ltd. v. Twentieth Century Fox Corp. Ltd. et al., 1939 CanLII 276 (UK JCPC), a Privy Council decision from the legendary Lord Wright that involved alleged copyright infringement in Canada. In a nutshell, the case involved a movie entitled “The Man Who Broke The Bank At Monte Carlo” and a song written earlier with the same title. Other than the title, there was nothing in common between the two works. The Privy Council held that there cannot be copyright in a title because it is not a sufficiently substantial work of authorship.

The Privy Council also indicated that:

In this connection regard must be had to s. 3 of the Act of 1921 which defines copyright as the "right to produce or reproduce the work or any substantial part thereof." The definition (v) does not, in their Lordships' judgment, mean that the title of a work is to be deemed to be a separate and independent "work." Work is to include "the title thereof," that is to say, the title is to be treated as part of the work, provided that it is original and distinctive whatever these words may connote. When that definition is read with s. 3, the result is that to copy the title constitutes infringement only when what is copied is a substantial part of the work. This view would agree in effect with what was said by Jessel M.R. in Dick v. Yates (supra) in the words quoted above and would apply to a case such as a title covering a whole page of original matter, or something of that nature, but would not justify such a wide extension of copyright as the appellant company has contended for, or the holding of McEvoy J. on this point. It is said that so to construe the definition is to treat it as adding nothing to the law. But the definition may have been inserted to settle doubts and to avoid it being said that in no circumstances could a title receive protection. In any event their Lordships do not think that the new definition (y) entitles the appellants to succeed in this case.

(at p. 359 of report) (highlight and underline added)

Thus, any reliance on the notion that Google, or other Digital News Intermediaries (“DNIs”), are infringing copyright by reproducing the title (i.e. headline) of an article is ridiculous. The “Monte Carlo” decision is just as relevant to Canadian law today as it was 84 years ago.

Even the inclusion of  a one or two sentence “snippet” from an article would presumably not entail application of the Copyright Act because it would likely not be a “substantial part” of the article and would thus not even need justification as fair dealing – which only is necessary if a “substantial part” is reproduced. Google News simply does not reproduce whole articles or substantial parts thereof. It long ago stopped providing even “snippets” and now just provides headlines.

Thus, the references in sections 23 to 26 to copyright are simply a red herring. The reference to the Copyright Board about a possible tariff is simply beyond absurd. Given the Boards historical inability to deal correctly with much simpler and more lucid legislative provisions, and its record of taking many years to decide cases and inevitably then retroactively and often wrongly, the notion of a Copyright Board “tariff” dealing with headlines of news articles is simply cringeworthy.

And, of course, links are no more than a modern and more convenient form of classical footnotes. The act of linking to an article without more is simply not “publication” and to legislate otherwise would threaten the very viability of the internet, as the SCC ruled a long time ago in Crookes v. Newton 2011 SCC 47 (CanLII), [2011] 3 SCR 269:

[36] The Internet cannot, in short, provide access to information without hyperlinks.  Limiting their usefulness by subjecting them to the traditional publication rule would have the effect of seriously restricting the flow of information and, as a result, freedom of expression.  The potential “chill” in how the Internet functions could be devastating, since primary article authors would unlikely want to risk liability for linking to another article over whose changeable content they have no control.  Given the core significance of the role of hyperlinking to the Internet, we risk impairing its whole functioning.  Strict application of the publication rule in these circumstances would be like trying to fit a square archaic peg into the hexagonal hole of modernity.

(highlight and emphasis added)

 Thus, there is no rational connection between Bill C-18 and copyright law as we know it in Canada. Any desperate reference to the concept of “neighbouring rights” based upon some civil law based European approach is also a non-starter in Canada, absent a major and likely unconstitutional amendment to the Copyright Act.

The only reason to include the references to copyright in Bill C-18 was presumably to somehow tenuously tether it to a constitutional lynch pin. I would be dismayed if government officials were unaware of this fictitious foundation. Apparently, however, they are doing what officials tend to do – which is to try to rescue their Minister’s misguided and politically based missions and to get them across the finish line through Parliament.

If this should happen with Bill C-18, one hopes that Google would challenge it in the courts. However, Google’s policy strategies have become increasingly opaque in recent years. Moreover, its litigation strategy that effectively snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in the SCC in the 2017 in Equustek decision case was and remains very puzzling. See Google Inc. v. Equustek, 2017 SCC 34.  Hopefully, Google will handle this and other possible constitutional issue issues, such as of whether it operates "a search engine or social media service, that is subject to the legislative authority of Parliament", more effectively than it dealt with the Equustek case in the SCC.  

Although I am “not practicing law” these days, I would be willing to elaborate on the above in the Senate hearings as a policy provocateur if asked.


Friday, May 26, 2023

A Fair Deal for Canada on Fair Dealing

Kate Taylor - Globe and Mail

The recent sadly and badly misinformed “opinion” dated May 20, 2023 by veteran Globe and Mail cultural columnist Kate Taylor entitled “Copyright loophole for education should be plugged”  highlights the need for the educational sector to step up to the plate on fair dealing and copyright revision. Her “opinion”, which some might mistake for journalism given her 34 year tenure with the Globe and Mail (which regards itself as “Canada’s National Newspaper”), could have been written by lobbyists for Access Copyright and publisher interests, though it would lack her hallmark and that of the Globe and Mail.

This is not the first time she has blatantly opined for Access Copyright. Here she is in 2016 using her Globe and Mail podium, which does not even pretend to be an “opinion” piece as does the current effort.

  • She doesn’t seem to understand that fair dealing rights are “users’ rights” that must be given a “large and liberal interpretation” and are “always available.” She needn’t take my word for this. Those statements come from the Chief Justice of Canada, Beverly McLachlin in the landmark 2004 CCH v. LSUC decision. Above all, fair dealing is not a “loophole”. Fair dealing rights are absolutely essential and integral to the concept of copyright in Canada and every other comparable jurisdiction.
  • She doesn’t seem to know the difference in terminology between “fair dealing” (Canada) and “fair use” (USA).
  • She is apparently unaware that the USA has provided more and more explicit rights to educators since 1976 than Canada has ever done, i.e. by hard wiring teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research” into its copyright law since 1976. See 17 USC 107. Nobody could credibly suggest that this is non-compliant with international treaties. It’s simply absurd to suggest that Canada is an “outlier” in this respect; if anything, our fair dealing users’ rights need to go even farther to catch up with the USA.
  • She is apparently unaware that key Canadian SCC fair dealing decisions, including the landmark 2012 Alberta v. Access Copyright and the SOCAN v. Bell  iTunes preview cases, were decided on the pre-2012 law that goes back to 1921 before the word “education” was added to s. 29. 
  • She is misleading readers by suggesting that the addition of the word “education” to s. 29 of the Copyright Act via the 2012 Copyright Modernization Act caused the decline in Access Copyright’s revenues. Indeed, the 2019 INDU Committee Report from Parliament confirms that:
  • ... in Alberta (Education) v. Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency (Access Copyright),5 the SCC concluded that teachers could rely on the fair dealing exception when reproducing works for their students since these students were engaging in “private study.” The SCC reached this conclusion without relying on an explicit fair dealing exception for “education”—which, as noted above, has since been added to the Act.
  • See also:
Prof. Ariel Katz’s 2018 testimony at the INDU hearings explaining that  correlation does not imply causation and outlining the many of the actual reasons for Access Copyright’s declining revenues
Prof. Ariel Katz’s 2014 blog about The Loss of Access Copyright Royalties and the Effect on Publishers: Sifting Fact from Fiction, which debunks the myths about the Oxford University Press “OUP”)decision close its Canadian K-12 division. Ms. Taylor in her current opinion to continues to attempt to refloat the OUP fiction

There have been no court cases since 2012 that have specifically considered the effect, if any, of the 2012 addition of the word “education” with respect to the fair dealing rights of educators, librarians, students and other essential “users” of the copyright system. In any event, the effect of the dealing on the market for the work being copied is one of the factors that courts would consider in determining fairness or lack thereof and, if Ms. Taylor is somehow correct in her assertion of causal connection, then copyright owners are already protected – so there’s another reason why there’s no loophole that needs to be fixed.

She is apparently unaware of the greatly increased spending since 2012 that bypasses Access Copyright not just because tariffs aren’t mandatory (as Ariel Katz and I have been preaching for a decade or so and the SCC agreed in 2021) but because Access Copyright’s “tariff” offers such poor value. Its repertoire is very limited – especially in the post-secondary educational (“PSE”) sector – and its terms of use are too limited to justify any more than a small fraction of their “approved” tariff, which is:

  • $24.80 per FTE student, if the educational institution is a university.
  • $9.54 per FTE student, if another educational institution (i.e. college)

The PSE sector is spending more money than ever though acquisitions, direct licensing, and dealing with the much more responsible and responsive American Copyright Clearance Center for transactional licences. Access Copyright is notoriously inefficient in its distribution, offers very limited “rights”, and its repertoire is focussed on Canadian literature – which is not a major component in the PSE sector. Most Canadian university or college grads will never need to read Margaret Atwood or Alice Munro. Maybe they should for their literary betterment. But such material is not part of the curriculum for engineers, doctors, lawyers, computer programmers, and the overwhelming majority of PSE students.

Access Copyright persists in attempting to collect revenues based upon repertoire for which it has NO rights. It once was able to get educational institutions to hold their noses on its dubious and now defunct “indemnity” scheme, which may have appeared to offer some practical value to some institutions. I’ve written a lot about this in the past, including this from 2009.

I have often suggested that Access Copyright could serve a useful purpose if it offered decent value to license its actual repertoire based upon useful terms and conditions at a reasonable price. But that price would presumably be a fraction – perhaps 10% - of what it currently sees itself entitled.

BTW, Access Copyright’s website is deceptively out of date regarding the PSE tariff case law, where it stops in 2017.

Ms. Taylor concludes her perfect puff piece for Access Copyright by saying “The legalized robbery of Canadian authors by the education sector is an international embarrassment and a national shame.” (emphasis and highlight added) Frankly, the national shame is that Canada’s national newspaper would publish something this misinformed, outrageous, and imbalanced that might get mistaken, due to its provenance and the Globe and Mail’s status, for credible journalism or analysis. BTW, I posted several timely tweets about this “opinion” and compiled  them for the comments section for the Globe and Mail, which has apparently decided not to publish my comment  in the “comments” feature following her opinion.

All that said, Ms. Taylor’s analytically and factually challenged “opinion” should at least be useful as a wakeup call for the educational sector – which frankly has not stepped up to the plate with sufficient vigor and confidence since its great victory in the SCC in the 2021 Access Copyright case, for which Ariel Katz laid the legal foundation and influentially intervened and I made the prevailing arguments on behalf of the intervener Canadian Association of Research Libraries (“CARL”).

The good copyright news overall now is that we recently passed Passover this year without the feared fatal budget announcement regarding fair dealing or mandatory tariffs that this Government might have hidden away in Federal Budget. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that this doesn’t mean these dangers have passed, as Ms. Taylor’s opinion piece blatantly demonstrates. Although the Hon. Pablo Rodriguez has his hands full with his incredibly misguided legislation in the form of Bills C-11 (now passed)  and C-18 (the “link tax” bill), that doesn’t mean that he or his enabling officials have forgotten about copyright and the shrill and misinformed voices from Quebec (of which he is Trudeau’s “Lieutenant”) and Bay Street.

Wiser ministers know that copyright revision – other than very careful incremental changes – is not a hill to die on in Canada. Fortunately, there are two other ministers who will hopefully bring some essential legal and policy wisdom to the table, should this become necessary.  The Hon. F-P Champagne, the ISED minister, is actually the minister with historically primary responsibility for copyright. The Minister of Justice – the Hon. David Lametti – who is mentioned by name by Ms. Taylor – may also play a role. He was a leading copyright law professor at the McGill Faculty of Law for about 15 years before he ran for office. His department is responsible for ensuring the constitutionality of any legislation and is responsible for the review and drafting of legislation for the government. He was my client and appeared with me in his capacity as law professor and head of the Centre for Intellectual Property Policy at McGill in another important SCC case that helped to pave the way to the definitive 2021 SCC York ruling that Access Copyright tariffs aren’t mandatory. See Canadian Broadcasting Corp. v. SODRAC 2003 Inc., 2015 SCC 57 (CanLII), [2015] 3 SCR 615.

In the lull before the possible copyright storm, the best thing that the user community can do would be to follow the suggestion of Justice Abella in her last and crowning SCC decision of her illustrious career, namely to “actualize” their fair dealing rights as she puts it in the 2021 Access Copyright v. York University decision from the SCC.

As I’ve said before:

The victories of the PSE (post secondary education) sector are in peril – not only because of AC and its collaborators but because of sometimes unwise strategies in the PSE sector itself. Recall this important analysis by Prof. Ariel Katz following York’s defeat at the trial level in 2017: Access Copyright v. York University: An Anatomy of a Predictable But Avoidable Loss. The fact that the AC litigation against York was not struck down early on and had to go the SCC and that York chose to bet the farm on a bad set of fair dealing guidelines and risk a severe smack down overall on fair dealing does not bode well for the future unless basic lessons have been learned – which is hopefully happening but is not yet evident. York very nearly lost that litigation. Fortunately, my brave client the Canadian Association of Research Libraries (“CARL”) and Prof. Ariel Katz were very instrumental in saving York from this fate – though it’s far from clear that all those responsible for York’s strategy actually appreciate our work.

It surely suggests that the PSE sector needs to update fair dealing guidelines and to follow Justice Abella’s wise words in the York decision:

[106] At the end of the day, the question in a case involving a university’s fair dealing practices is whether those practices actualize the students’ right to receive course material for educational purposes in a fair manner, consistent with the underlying balance between users’ rights and creators’ rights in the Act. Since we are not deciding the merits of the fair dealing appeal brought by York, there is no reason to answer the question in this case.

(underline highlight & emphasis added)

This can only mean that the PSE sector needs to come up with viable fair dealing guidelines that are:

  • Neither too permissive nor too defensive
  • Sufficiently specific to be actually useful.
  • Sufficiently to broad to enable adult responsibility by individual professors and library personnel without the need to seek legal advice or permission from so-called rights owners or their licensees (after all, that is what fair dealing is all about)
  • Likely to stand up to scrutiny in the event of litigation.

As I’ve said before:

Perhaps York should have been rather more careful about what it wished for. Both the Federal Court and the FCA had to respond to the counterclaim, which they did as asked. I am on record from the beginning as having questioned not only the guidelines themselves, which emanate from AUCC (now UC) guidelines but York’s decision to needlessly, in my view, put them on trial. Essentially, I had suggested that York get a summary ruling on whether the tariff was mandatory – which should have been very easy at least after the 2015 SCC judgment – and not unnecessarily “bet the farm” on the controversial fair dealing guidelines. Here are some of my blogs in reverse chronological order.

The process of actualizing educators’ fair dealing rights, which includes updating fair dealing guidelines, is essential and may suffice to head off any improvident legislation, such as Ms. Taylor and her supporters would like to see. It is too important to be entrusted to any single organization. That said, it should not be unduly complicated, given the good beginning of the 2012 U of T guidelines with which I was closely involved. These could be satisfactorily updated relatively quickly by a very small number of experts. If different organizations separately develop new guidelines, then let the market decide which approach is better. This may prove more efficient than attempting to form a coalition that could result in delays and devolution to the lowest common denominator. Above all, the mistakes that almost resulted in defeat being snatched from the jaws of victory in the long saga of the York litigation as a result of problematic guidelines and litigation strategy must not be repeated.

The original 2012 U of T fair dealing guidelines were developed in a cooperative collaboration between usually contrasting viewpoints (Casey Chisick and I) under the wise leadership of the now retired and much missed U of T general counsel Steve Moate. I was pleased to have been part of this process. These were, IMHO, the best fair dealing guidelines to date and suggest a method and process of going forward. If Casey and I can agree on anything concerning copyright, chances are that it must be right!

U of T has recently controversially updated its fair dealing guidelines, supposedly in response to the 2021 York decision from the SCC. Here is the new version. I was NOT involved in this update because I was not invited. I and many others are very disappointed with these new guidelines which are a big step backwards and, in some respects, simply wrong and even harmful. I will not go into any detail now as to how they are less than helpful, other than to say this.

Overall, these revised 2022 (as slightly updated in early 2023) guidelines are a disappointing and, in several instances, questionable and even inaccurate revision and update. They are more restrictive for the PSE sector than the 2012 guidelines.

Overall, the guidelines have gone from a reasonably balanced “safe harbour” approach that  enabled and empowered fair dealing to a much more risk-averse restrictive approach that overly protects publishers and needlessly errs on the side of caution at the cost of good education, research, and private study. With three strong SCC fair dealing victories in the last decades and two recent strong SCC judgements that tariffs aren’t mandatory, why wouldn’t U of T offer more assertive and empowering guidelines for the benefit of teachers and, above all, students – in other words, the university community.

If the current government is unwise enough to follow the histrionic hyperbole of Access Copyright and powerful publishers as presented by Ms. Taylor, then the PSE sector must be ready to defend itself with a good offence. This might include:

  • Clarifying that TPMs can be circumvented for fair dealing purposes
  • Ensuring that users’ fair dealing rights cannot be overridden by contract or waiver
  • Ensuring that if crown copyright is not abolished in its present form, then republication of any crown work that is not officially “secret” should be permitted as fair dealing. This would be almost as good as in the USA where the federal government has no copyright rights in its works
  • Adding the two little words “such as” to the s. 29 fair dealing provision, consistent with American law.

Anyway, thank you to @ThatKateTaylor this unintentional call to arms to all those who care about a fair deal for fair dealing and other essential aspects of copyright in Canada.