03/07/2013 12:13 EST | Updated 05/07/2013 05:12 EDT

Is This Canadian Newspaper Breaking Copyright Law?

Description crossed skull | Source it's made from Image:Pirate Flag of Jack Rackham.svg | Date 9.12.2007 | Author EugeneZelenko /remade by ...

I'm a big fan of Chris Selley, the National Post writer behind Full Pundit, a daily look the Canadian editorial and opinion columns (last year Selley was also a vocal supporter of the much-needed Fire Ron Wilson campaign). The Full Pundit features a summary of the most notable editorial writing in Canadian media accompanied by quotations from the original works. I'm quite sure that Selley does not ask for permission to quote from those other works since fair dealing for news reporting purposes permits their use without the need to do so. Yet if someone wants to post a quote from Selley or anything else written by the National Post, they are now presented with pop-up box seeking a licence that starts at $150 for the Internet posting of 100 words with an extra fee of 50 cents for each additional word (the price is cut in half for non-profits).

For example, in yesterday's Full Pundit, Selley quotes John Graham in the Globe on the death of Chavez:

"Illiteracy has all but disappeared. ... Education and free health care are almost universally available. ... Improving the quality of life for millions at the bottom levels of society is no small achievement. He also imparted to these millions a sense of dignity about themselves and pride in their leader's often bombastic rhetoric."

If you try to highlight the text to cut and paste it, you are presented with a pop-up request to purchase a licence if you plan to post the article to a website, intranet or a blog. The fee would be $150. In other words, the National Post is seeking payment for text in an article that was itself copied from the Globe. Of course, it is not just Selley's work as many articles quote from other articles or sources (for example, this Post article on Taylor Swift is primarily quotes from Vanity Fair. If you highlight a chunk of text, the licence message pops up).

None of this requires a licence or payment. In fact, the amount of copying is often so insubstantial that a fair dealing analysis is not even needed. Last year, the Federal Court of Canada ruled that several paragraphs from a National Post column by Jonathan Kay posted to an Internet chat site did not constitute copying a substantial part of the work. If there was a fair dealing analysis, there is no doubt that copying a hundred words out of an article would easily meet the fair dealing standard. In fact, the Supreme Court of Canada has indicated that copying full articles in some circumstances may be permitted.

The National Post is using iCopyright as its licensing service. The company provides a fair use statement that simply does not reflect the law, suggesting that fair dealing may not apply to the use of work that may generate revenues, is not highly creative, was available under licence, is something more than a footnote, or is posted to the Web.

None of these are conditions that exclude the application of fair dealing and the recent Supreme Court of Canada decisions make it clear that the required broad and liberal approach would cover the excerpt copying for which iCopyright seeks payment. All media organizations rely on fair dealing to support a free and robust press. Those same organizations should not be undermining those hard-earned users' rights by raising unnecessary licensing demands.

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