Perspectives

Teachers’ use of fair dealing will need to be defended as the federal government reviews the Copyright Act

By Chris George
March 23, 2018
Untitled Document

Federal MPs’ copyright review to look at teachers’ access to lesson resources

There is a provision in Canada’s Copyright Act that allows teachers to access a wealth of resources in preparing lessons for their students – it is called fair dealing. This is a result of a Supreme Court of Canada decision that interpreted how fair dealing applies in the classroom. The Supreme Court decided that it is fair for teachers to copy short excerpts of copyright-protected material such as books, movies, television programs, musical and artistic works.

The Supreme Court decision, along with legislative changes to Canada’s copyright law in 2012, have provided many new benefits for teachers, students, and the learning process in the classroom. Perhaps the greatest benefit is that teachers can now use copies of short excerpts of copyright-protected work under the fair dealing provision to supplement their lesson materials. Fair dealing does not mean that a teacher can make unlimited use of any copyright-protected work without permission or payment. Rather, fair dealing permits the use of “short excerpts” for educational purposes.

To assist with the application of the Supreme Court decision, Canada’s education community established the Fair Dealing Guidelines (FDG) and they have been implemented as an institutional policy by schools, school boards, and ministries of education. The FDG describe a safe harbour, not absolute limits. Copying or communicating a copyright-protected work within the prescribed limits will, according to the advice of legal counsel, almost certainly be fair. Copying or communicating beyond those limits may, or may not, be fair.

The Copyright Resource for Teachers: CopyrightDecisionTool.ca

There is a great online resource to help teachers determine whether fair dealing permits them to use short excerpts from copyright-protected materials for the students in their classrooms.

CopyrightDecisionTool.ca helps teachers decide, with a few clicks, whether the fair dealing provision in the Copyright Act permits copying of short excerpts from print materials, artistic works, or audiovisual materials for students without having to get copyright permission.

So, the next time you wonder, “Can I use this in the classroom? Can I copy it?” the answer is at your fingertips! It takes 30 seconds on CopyrightDecisionTool.ca to have your copyright questions answered. By clicking through this user-friendly resource, teachers will know how to apply fair dealing and whether their use of the copyright-protected materials is “fair.”

When in doubt about whether a use is fair dealing, use the Copyright Decision Tool.

Visit (and bookmark!): www.CopyrightDecisionTool.ca

With fair dealing, Canada’s copyright law supports learning, fosters innovation, and drives knowledge creation by providing teachers and students with the legal right to deal fairly with the copyright-protected works of others. It provides the framework for Canadians to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to be competitive globally. Teachers can use copyright-protected works to enrich their lessons as both teachers and students can work with supplemental materials without fear of infringing copyright. Most important, the fair dealing provision for education has placed Canadian teachers and students on the same playing field as students in the United States and around the world, where copying short excerpts is permitted without the payment of copyright royalties.

Currently, MPs are reviewing the Copyright Act in federal Parliament and it appears fair dealing for education may be caught in a crossfire with educational publishers and Access Copyright, the copyright agency that collects tariffs from the education sector for use of resources. The crux of the matter is, today, many educational uses of copyright-protected works no longer require payment of copyright royalties – publishers are attributing the trending decline of text book sales to fair dealing in Canadian classrooms. The educational publishers, writers’ groups and Access Copyright have not accepted the changes in law. In fact, since the Supreme Court’s decision in 2012, they have initiated four separate legal challenges in the courts and at the Copyright Board. They have also been actively lobbying the government to reverse the Supreme Court’s decision on fair dealing and remove education as a permitted fair dealing purpose. In short, these groups want schools to once again be legally required to pay for copying short excerpts.

Given the strident efforts by these lobbying groups, Canadian teachers need to be aware of the copyright review and how MPs may change the fair dealing provision. Legislative amendments to narrow, limit or eliminate the FDG would have a detrimental effect on the quality of teaching and learning in Canada. The Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF) and its Member organizations are working with other national organizations to raise awareness of the benefits of fair dealing and to counter the misinformation of the publishers’ lobby. Contact us to find out more about the federal Parliament review.

There is a need for MPs to hear how important fair dealing is to the teaching profession. You can participate in the CTF’s advocacy campaign to advance the interests of teachers’ use of fair dealing in the federal Parliament’s copyright review.


Chris George is a communications advisor on copyright and education issues. He counsels the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC) Copyright Consortium and works alongside national education organizations including the Canadian Teachers’ Federation.

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