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Supreme Court ruling a victory for students and post-secondary education

(Ottawa, August 4, 2021) — Last week’s Supreme Court decision to uphold a ruling that copyright tariffs are not mandatory is a huge win for students, researchers and the publicly-funded post-secondary education system.  This, according to the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) and the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) which together intervened before the Supreme Court on the landmark case between York University and the collective licensing agency, Access Copyright. 

In their unanimous ruling on July 31, the Supreme Court noted that copyright licences cannot be imposed on York University, and recognized that it is in the public interest that students—who are the heart of the education system—be able to access education materials.

“For too many years, the education sector has had to pay twice:  once for the initial creation of the educational material and the second time to Access Copyright to access its own content,” says CAUT Executive Director David Robinson. “This decision ensures that students and educational institutions are not overpaying for educational and research materials which are integral to quality education.”

The decision also sustains the Supreme Court’s position that fair dealing is a user’s right. The court reiterated that whether fair dealing can be used must be decided from the perspective of the end users, in this case students, and not intermediaries like the educational institutions.

“This victory today belongs to students and the public education system,” says Alannah Mckay, Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students. “Ultimately educational resources ought to be available to everyone regardless of what's in their bank account.”

Even though fair dealing has existed in Canadian law since the first Canadian copyright statutes, in recent years fair dealing has come under attack from corporate interests. Fair dealing ensures copyright laws balance the public’s need to access content—for education, research and private study—with the fair remuneration needed to motivate private content producers.

This Supreme Court ruling comes more than one year after a Federal Court of Appeals decision in April 2020 that also stated that Access Copyright cannot enforce its tariffs against York University or any non-licensed user, a clear recognition that educational institutions can opt out of collective licensing arrangements and choose other legal routes to copy and use works.

CAUT represents 72,000 academic staff that create and share knowledge. CFS represents over 500,000 post-secondary education students.


Media contact: Rachel Vincent, Senior Communications Officer.; 613-276-9030.