Copyright and COVID-19: The Role of Fair Dealing

The current COVID-19 crisis has created challenges for post-secondary institutions across the country and around the world in their efforts to continue to meet the needs of their students while observing the constraints of social distancing....

Copyright Office - 25 March 2020

The current COVID-19 crisis has created challenges for post-secondary institutions across the country and around the world in their efforts to continue to meet the needs of their students while observing the constraints of social distancing. As alternate models for course delivery are developed and implemented, concerns about copyright can be important considerations. However, there are reasonable ways to appropriately address such concerns in most cases.

The foundation of copyright law in Canada is the balance between the rights of creators and the rights of users. This balance is designed to serve the broader public interest. The most significant feature in Canadian copyright law for the preservation of this balance is fair dealing.

Essentially, fair dealing allows for the use of copyright-protected works in limited ways where that use serves the broader public interest. The limitations are intended to ensure that the permitted use encroaches on the interests of the rights-holder no more than to the extent reasonably necessary to achieve that public interest purpose.

Copyright law is rooted in the Copyright Act, but it would not be reasonable to expect any statute to foresee and specifically account for any future technological innovation or any future public health crisis. Fair dealing allows copyright law to immediately accommodate such disruptions.

Fairness is always a matter of interpretation, and what will best serve the public interest can also often be open to debate. However, both must take into account all relevant circumstances. Here are links to some resources that are aimed at assisting post-secondary institutions respond to the current COVID-19 situation in a way that addresses the reasonable concerns around copyright.

Fair Dealing and Emergency Remote Teaching in Canada (Sam Trosow and Lisa Macklem, 21Mar2020)

CARL Statement on Optimal Equitable Access to Post-Secondary Learning Resources During COVID-19 (Canadian Association of Research Libraries, 26Mar2020)

Public Statement of Library Copyright Specialists: Fair Use & Emergency Remote Teaching and Research (13Mar2020)

For anyone in the University of Alberta community who has questions or concerns about the copyright implications of their efforts to continue to meet student needs remotely, please contact the Copyright Office (copyright@ualberta.ca). Although we are also now working remotely, we are available to provide assistance.

For information about access to course materials made available via the University of Alberta Library, see Access to Course Materials During COVID-19.