Fair dealing is vital to meeting students’ learning needs

June 12, 2017
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Students sit in a large lecture hall while listening to the professor at the front of the room.

This op-ed was published in The Hill Times on June 12, 2017

By Paul Davidson, president of Universities Canada, and Michael McDonald, executive director of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations

Innovation in education is vital to preparing today’s students for our rapidly changing world. From coast to coast, Canada’s universities provide students with a 21st century education that prepares them for the global knowledge economy.

University professors draw on a wide variety of learning opportunities and resources – including digital materials and new online platforms – to share knowledge and foster discussion. A balanced approach to copyright in Canada is crucial to ensuring students have these broad learning opportunities.

Universities use rights granted by the Supreme Court for the educational use of copyrighted material. And fair dealing is central to these rights.

Fair dealing allows educational institutions to share with students small amounts of works without paying the copyright holder. This makes it easier for students to be exposed to a variety of texts and other works from multiple sources. It allows educators to tailor teaching material to specific lectures, the most current issues and class requirements. Universities Canada interprets fair dealing as meaning up to one-tenth of a work can be copied for a class or short clips from several films can be screened during a lecture without charge.

At the same time, universities continue to invest heavily in paid content. Collectively they spend more than $350 million annually on library acquisitions. This amount has increased by more than 40 percent over the past decade, outpacing inflation. Paid access to content remains the primary way of accessing academic scholarship, published scientific research and all of other content used on campuses.

Fair dealing has been part of the Copyright Act since it was first written in 1921. Since 2002, the Supreme Court of Canada has issued several decisions which support fair dealing as being an important counter-balance in copyright law. It has clarified that students and teachers’ use of fair dealing is legitimate. In fact, the court calls fair dealing a “right” for all users.

When the Government of Canada updated the Copyright Act in 2012, the result reflected nearly a decade of Supreme Court of Canada rulings in support of fair dealing. As the government undertakes its mandatory review of the act this year, Canada’s universities and students urge Parliament to stay the course.

The value of this provision was reinforced by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2002 when it said fair dealing and similar aspects of the Copyright Act are important for “innovation in the long-term interests of society as a whole.”

Fair dealing ensures all students have access to a diversity of sources for their studies. Research shows that increased costs restrict student access to the course materials they need. For example, research from Kwantlen Polytechnic University shows that about 54 per cent of BC students decide not to buy at least one course textbook because of the cost. Worse still, 26 per cent of students have avoided signing up for a class with an expensive textbook and 17 per cent have dropped a class because of the cost of texts.

In recent years, publishers have pushed the cost of textbooks beyond what many students can afford.

Thankfully digitization has made more information across disciplines more accessible than ever before and in the university context mechanisms are in place to ensure that creators are paid.

Universities are both creators and users of copyright material. As such, they invest considerable resources in ensuring our campus communities adhere to copyright law. Since 2012, most – if not all – of Canada’s have increased their spending to ensure copyright compliance.

Universities provide considerable education to students on the rules of copyright, to ensure respect for the rules that govern its use.

Copyright professionals on campus connect with students, faculty and staff throughout the university community to raise awareness of copyright law and provide adherence support.

The transition from primarily printed to increasingly digital materials has not been smooth for everyone. This shift has been disruptive for some industry sectors. Publishers are working to adjust to new realities and business models in the same way that taxi services, video rental stores, retailers, hotels and others are adapting.

We need Canadian content to flourish, but narrowing fair dealing provisions in the Copyright Act is the wrong approach. Government should consider different policy measures to directly help creators, including those on university campuses, navigate this period of disruption.

When it comes to copyright, students and university administrators agree.  Universities Canada and the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations stand together in support of a balanced approach to copyright and the importance of preserving fair dealing.

Together, we urge government to maintain the 2012 addition of education to section 29 of the Copyright Act. Fair dealing strikes the right balance between the rights of copyright owners and the rights of users. It is a vital tool in preparing students for the future.


About Universities Canada
Universities Canada is the voice of Canada’s universities at home and abroad, advancing higher education, research and innovation for the benefit of all Canadians.

Media contact:

Lisa Wallace
Assistant Director, Communications
Universities Canada
[email protected]

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