York University to appeal federal court ruling on copyright fees

York University says it's going to appeal a Federal Court of Canada ruling on copyright fees. Deborah Baic / File / The Globe and Mail / The Canadian Press

TORONTO – One of Canada’s largest universities says it will appeal a Federal Court ruling that found it was circumventing copyright fees in reproducing materials being handed out to students.

Toronto’s York University says its guidelines for materials used in course packs and online class supports, which were a focal point of the case, are meant to balance the needs of creators, publishers and consumers.

It says similar rules are in place at universities across Canada and stresses that it nonetheless spends millions of dollars each year on licences and acquisitions.

The university wouldn’t say whether it would carry on with its current practices until the appeal is concluded, saying only that it would “continue to seek potential improvements” to its system.

The Federal Court of Canada last month ruled against York in its legal dispute with Access Copyright, a collective that has provided institutions access to a pool of protected intellectual work for decades while distributing royalties to the writers, artists and publishers it represents.

Story continues below advertisement

Q & A: How will the country’s copyright laws affect Canadians?

The university cut ties with Access Copyright in 2011 over rising tariffs, instead choosing to navigate the world of intellectual property rights without an intermediary.

The school also implemented guidelines meant to ensure materials given to students included a portion of any protected work small enough to be considered “fair dealing” so that they would not incur copyright fees.

Access Copyright then sued the school on allegations that it had been improperly reproducing and authorizing the copying of protected works. York then filed a countersuit, seeking to have its actions declared fair dealing.

But the court found York couldn’t opt out of the tariff and that its guidelines were too broad and arbitrary to qualify as fair dealing.

York said Tuesday it is challenging both findings.

“Fair dealing is an important exception to copyright that attempts to balance the rights of the copyright owner with the needs of users, who require access to copyrighted material to pursue their research, studies and/or education. Fair dealing practices are currently in use at universities across Canada,” the school’s lawyer, Maureen Armstrong, said in a statement.

The lawsuits were part of a broader clash over between Access Copyright and a group of universities represented by the Association of Universities and Colleges Canada.

Story continues below advertisement

In 2010, Access Copyright asked the Copyright Board of Canada to impose on universities a tariff of $45 per full-time student annually, rather than a lower tariff combined with a per-page royalty for copying protected works.

This set off a heated debate, prompting the board to allow an interim tariff for schools and universities that didn’t have a deal with the collective but used works the agency handled the rights for.

York later declared it was opting out of the interim tariff – a move the court condemned in last month’s ruling.

The following year, Access Copyright and the Association of Universities and Colleges Canada reached a deal requiring institutions to pay the collective $26 per full-time equivalent student annually, but York didn’t participate.

Sponsored content