CanLII and the Federation to Defend Free Access to Law at the Supreme Court

 (Posted on August 4, 2011)

CanLII and the Federation of Law Societies of Canada have been granted leave to intervene at the Supreme Court of Canada in SOCAN v. Bell et al., a copyright case to be heard later this year in which the Court will be asked to provide guidance on the meaning of “research” as a fair dealing user right under the Copyright Act

CANLII is a non-profit organization created and funded by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, on behalf of its 14 member law societies. CanLII is also a member of the Free Access to Law Movement, which includes the primary stakeholders involved in free, open publication of law throughout the world.

While the facts of the SOCAN case relate to online music previews and not legal research, the legal questions at issue include the meaning of “research” as a head of fair dealing and how, in the internet age, courts should balance copyright holders’ interests with user rights. CanLII and the Federation will argue for a large and liberal interpretation of the term “research” as set out in CCH v. Law Society of Upper Canada and in several other subsequent cases.

CanLII and the Federation will submit that the Copyright Act and its fair dealing provisions must be interpreted in conjunction with constitutional, administrative, and common law principles guaranteeing access to justice for all persons. Any restriction on access to legal information would violate these fundamental principles.

While the ability of the Federation to provide free access to Canadian law through CanLII is not under immediate threat, CanLII and the Federation are concerned about the detrimental impact on access to law and justice that could flow from a narrow interpretation of “research” and from a restrictive approach to fair dealing rights in respect of copyright material.