CCH Canadian Ltd. v. Law Society of Upper Canada


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March 4, 2004 ([2001] HCA 63)

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Law Society was not liable for the copying of cases and their headnotes because what they were doing amounted to fair dealing. What follows is the essence of the unanimous ruling of the court on that issue, delivered by the Chief Justice:

48 Before reviewing the scope of the fair dealing exception under the Copyright Act, it is important to clarify some general considerations about exceptions to copyright infringement. Procedurally, a defendant is required to prove that his or her dealing with a work has been fair; however, the fair dealing exception is perhaps more properly understood as an integral part of the Copyright Act than simply a defence. Any act falling within the fair dealing exception will not be an infringement of copyright. The fair dealing exception, like other exceptions in the Copyright Act, is a user's right. In order to maintain the proper balance between the rights of a copyright owner and users' interests, it must not be interpreted restrictively. As Professor Vaver, supra, has explained, at p. 171: "User rights are not just loopholes. Both owner rights and user rights should therefore be given the fair and balanced reading that befits remedial legislation."

49 As an integral part of the scheme of copyright law, the s. 29 fair dealing exception is always available. Simply put, a library can always attempt to prove that its dealings with a copyrighted work are fair under s. 29 of the Copyright Act. It is only if a library were unable to make out the fair dealing exception under s. 29 that it would need to turn to s. 30.2 of the Copyright Act to prove that it qualified for the library exemption.

50 In order to show that a dealing was fair under s. 29 of the Copyright Act, a defendant must prove: (1) that the dealing was for the purpose of either research or private study and (2) that it was fair.

51 The fair dealing exception under s. 29 is open to those who can show that their dealings with a copyrighted work were for the purpose of research or private study. "Research" must be given a large and liberal interpretation in order to ensure that users' rights are not unduly constrained. I agree with the Court of Appeal that research is not limited to non-commercial or private contexts. The Court of Appeal correctly noted, at para. 128, that "[r]esearch for the purpose of advising clients, giving opinions, arguing cases, preparing briefs and factums is nonetheless research". Lawyers carrying on the business of law for profit are conducting research within the meaning of s. 29 of the Copyright Act.

52 The Copyright Act does not define what will be "fair"; whether something is fair is a question of fact and depends on the facts of each case. See McKeown, supra, at p. 23-6. Lord Denning explained this eloquently in Hubbard v. Vosper, [1972] 1 All E.R. 1023 (C.A.), at p. 1027:

It is impossible to define what is `fair dealing'. It must be a question of degree. You must consider first the number and extent of the quotations and extracts. Are they altogether too many and too long to be fair? Then you must consider the use made of them. If they are used as a basis for comment, criticism or review, that may be a fair dealing. If they are used to convey the same information as the author, for a rival purpose, that may be unfair. Next, you must consider the proportions. To take long extracts and attach short comments may be unfair. But, short extracts and long comments may be fair. Other considerations may come to mind also. But, after all is said and done, it must be a matter of impression. As with fair comment in the law of libel, so with fair dealing in the law of copyright. The tribunal of fact must decide.


60 To conclude, the purpose of the dealing, the character of the dealing, the amount of the dealing, the nature of the work, available alternatives to the dealing and the effect of the dealing on the work are all factors that could help determine whether or not a dealing is fair. These factors may be more or less relevant to assessing the fairness of a dealing depending on the factual context of the allegedly infringing dealing. In some contexts, there may be factors other than those listed here that may help a court decide whether the dealing was fair.

See CCH Canadian Ltd. v. Law Society of Upper Canada

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