As graduate students and scientists at the University of Toronto, our core purpose is to be intellectually creative, produce novel work, and disseminate this knowledge to the scientific community. Copyright law ensures that we have control over the fruits of our labour, but also contains exceptions for when work can by copied without the permission of the author. One of the most important exceptions in Canadian copyright law involves fair dealing, which allows limited copying for non-commercial purposes such as research, private study, or education. These laws, when interpreted and applied appropriately, allow for the free flow of ideas that is essential for the continued education of both authors and society. However, the landscape of Canadian copyright law has changed, forcing secondary and post-secondary institutions to navigate new terrain.
In December 2013, the University of Toronto ended its agreement with Access Copyright, a non-profit organization that offers licenses that allow the copying of a collection of content from Canadian creators and publishers by educational institutions, businesses, governments and others. The agreement, signed in 2012 by both the University of Toronto and the University of Western Ontario, saw the license fee increase from $3.38 per full time equivalent student to $27.50 per academic year. This controversial agreement, and the new royalty fee, was said to reflect the changing of the definition of “copy” to include digital copies of copyrighted work. The agreement also introduced restrictions on sending emails with links to content copyrighted work. In the University’s press release on the non-renewal, it cited an inability to agree with Access Copyright on a price that the University felt fairly reflected the services they provide.
The decision of many universities not to renew their licenses with Access Copyright was in part due to a series of rulings delivered by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2012, which involved an amendment to the Canadian Copyright Act. This amendment, called the Copyright Modernization Act, expanded the definition of what constitutes the fair use of copyright materials for educational purposes and emphasized the flexible nature of fair dealing. According to this new amendment, “Fair dealing for the purpose of research, private study, education, parody or satire does not infringe copyright”. These rulings could be seen as a serious blow to Access Copyright’s business model, as federal law now protects educators and students under this fair dealing law. Access Copyright released a statement voicing its concern that the university’s interpretation of the rulings was not in line with what it actually means, and the collective’s supporters feared that it would ultimately result in creators and publishers not receiving the royalties they deserve. Access Copyright also challenged the university’s capability to handle its own copyright office.
The University of Toronto, instead of signing a new licence with Access Copyright for 2014, has chosen to create a copyright office to help faculty and students comply with the law. Queens University, the University of British Columbia, the University of Western Ontario and York University also ended their licenses with Access Copyright. Alongside negotiation for new agreements after the Supreme Court rulings, Access Copyright launched a suit against York in 2013 seeking payment of royalties, claiming that since 2011, York had been authorizing and promoting copyright infringement under York’s interpretation of fair dealing. Many observers in education and law see this litigation as a test case for the Supreme Court’s rulings in fair dealing, and the precedent set by the outcome could either strengthen or weaken Access Copyright’s role in copyright dealings. In addition to this litigation, Access Copyright filed two applications to the Copyright Board of Canada for certain mandatory tariffs that would require schools and universities to pay a set royalty for the use of their repertoire of content. If this tariff becomes certified by the Board, there could be far-reaching effects for students and Canada’s educational institutions.
The speed at which we can disseminate knowledge has increased at an unprecedented rate, and copyright law has fought to keep up. Centuries have passed since the explosive technological and economic growth created by the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press, which birthed the need for copyright law to protect authors and publishers. As students and educators, we are perpetually consuming copyrighted contents in an effort to produce our own work, which will in turn be protected by copyright law. While issues over copyright law may seem far removed, the outcomes of this debate will impact our capacity to function as students and educators, and therefore we must keep a careful watch over how these events unfold over the coming years.