Quite a great deal around copyright issues has been going on in Canada recently.
First, on January 1, 2004, every unpublished document whose author had died on or before December 31, 1948, passed from copyright into the public domain in Canada.
Second, the Supreme Court of Canada made an important ruling on copyright unanimously stating that the Law Society of Upper Canada (the Ontario Bar Association) is not breaking copyright law by photocopying legal decisions for lawyers and researchers. The ruling in Law Society of Upper Canada v. CCH Canadian Ltd states that "fair dealing" (the Canadian equavalent to "fair use") allows some institutions, like libraries and museums, to copy copyrighted material because it is being used for research and study even though copyright law applies to those materials. A detailed history of the case is found here.
This latest ruling builds on the earlier balancing of intellectual property rights by the Canadian Supreme Court, recognizing the rights of creators -- but also their limited status. In 2002, in Théberge v. Galerie d'Art du Petit Champlain, the Court stated that "excessive control by holders of copyrights and other forms of intellectual property may unduly limit the ability of the public domain to incorporate and embellish creative innovation in the long-term interests of society as a whole, or create practical obstacles to proper utilization."
Third, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage after hearings suggested a report calling for online uses of copyright protected works be made available through collective licensing. This action has been supported by some, such as Access Copyright, but criticized by others.
Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, in this column from the Toronto Star suggests a balanced guide to appropriate copyright reform:
1. Have all stakeholders (copyright owners, users, public interest groups) present during negotiations. Also,
the reform procedures should be balanced -- without the influence of outside funds.
2. Find a middle ground between proposals instead of seeking to please stakeholders by choosing one proposal as a whole.
3. Empirical evidence and the economic impact of all options should be discussed.
4. Accept the possiblility of a uniquely Canadian option. He suggests based on Canada's Supreme Court
decision "protection of user rights such as copying for research, private study, criticism and news reporting" should especially be protected.
5. Take the time for a good solution.
The Canadian Copyright Law can be found here.
Canadians should be commended for discussing these issues so widely. I am impressed that there is a legislative committee on heritage -- perhaps that is what the United States needs to help determine the boundaries to copyright. I think that part of the reason the fight about intellectual property is so divisive in the U.S. is our lack of general acceptance of the idea of "commons" -- including even occasionally traditional "commons" such as public libraries.