What is “fair dealing”?
Fair dealing is an exception to the general rule against unauthorized use of copyrighted works. It allows one to make a copy for the purposes of private study or research, criticism or review, and news reporting (sections 29 to 29.2 of Copyright Act) — as long as one deals fairly with the material. What is fair depends on the circumstances: whether the use is commercial or not, how much of the work is copied, whether there is a negative effect on the work, etc. What’s certain is that fair dealing rights are user’s rights that should be protected, as the Supreme Court stated.
Are there any other exceptions to copyright?
Yes. In addition to fair dealing, the Copyright Act allows educational institutions and libraries to avoid copyright in specific cases. For instance, section 30.2(1) allows libraries to use copyrighted materials on behalf of others in the same way individuals would be allowed to use the materials themselves. This means librarians can copy an article and put it in a professor’s course reserve. Another exception: professors can project pages from a book through an overhead projector during lectures (section 29.4(1)).
If universities can use copyright exceptions to legally use protected works, why do they renew their agreement with Copibec?
Universities, like any big organization, are averse to risk. While the law provides strong exceptions for fair dealing and educational institutions, the legality of any single use is not certain until it is decided in court. Because universities want to avoid being sued at all costs, they prefer dealing with Copibec. The downside: cost is ultimately passed on to the students and the taxpayers.
It’s worth noting that section 30.3(2) of the Copyright Act currently requires universities to enter into agreements with a society that collectively administers copyright, like Copibec. But it doesn’t need to be Copibec: it could be an online database that offers more valuable access to a database of works.