Are Universities Immune From Copyright Infringement?

What seems like unlimited access to content found online has made the topic of copyright an increasing area of focus. In 2017, the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency discussed what would be considered copyright infringement.

The provisions of the Copyright Act set out what is protectable by copyright and the rights of owners. The Copyright Act in Canada also sets out a number of exemptions to copyright infringement where a copyrighted material may be used without permission. These include research, review, education, news reporting, parody, private study, criticism and satire. If the copy is being used for purposes of news reporting, criticism or review, proper credit still needs to be given to the originating author to fall under ‘fair dealing.’

Fair dealing is not specifically set out in the Act. The Supreme Court of Canada has provided a list of factors in determined whether or not use of a copyrighted work is considered “fair dealing”. These factors include


The intentions for the use of the copy will determine if the text is infringed upon. For example, using the copy for business purposes for profit would not be considered fair dealing.


If the copy is not used for public purposes, then this may be considered fair dealing. If the text is used for private purposes or eliminated after use, then the court may find this as fair dealing.


If the alleged infringed copyright is somehow competing with the original copyright, then this would likely not be considered fair dealing.

The Canadian Courts review each claim of copyright infringement/fair dealings on a case by case basis as copyright infringement can be tedious. However, the burden of proof generally rests on the party who is claiming that use of the copyright falls under the fair dealing exception.

In 2017, the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency accused York University of copyright infringement, seeking copyright tariffs from York University’s employees. It was claimed that York University used a mixture of hard copy and online content for their curriculum. During this accusation, York University defended their decision using the guidelines set out in Fair Dealings. The Supreme Court did find that that York’s use of the copyright direct impacted the revenue stream of Access licensing to creators and publishers. They also found that there was no real effort from York to manage the large volume of copying, and ruled that more effort could have been done on York University’s fair dealings.

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