Previews of musical works do not infringe copyright
As we've discussed in a number of recent blog posts, the Supreme Court of Canada this week released a number of major copyright-related decisions. In one of these cases, Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada v. Bell Canada (SOCAN), the Supreme Court considered whether there would be a tariff for the communication of previews of musical works over the internet.
Online music previews are short extracts of musical works and assist a consumer in deciding musical purchases. The Copyright Board concluded that those who make previews available, and the users that listen to previews, were entitled to avail themselves of the fair dealing exception under section 29 of the Copyright Act, as listening to the previews constituted research of a purchasing decision (see our previous post). The Federal Court of Appeal upheld the Copyright Board’s decision and SOCAN sought leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.
In upholding the decisions below, the Supreme Court concluded that the previews constituted fair dealing, applying the test articulated by the Court in CCH Canadian Ltd v. Law Society of Canada (CCH).
In applying the first step of the test and determining whether the previews are provided for the purpose of “research”, the Court rejected arguments limiting the definition of “research” and affirmed that the term be given a “large and liberal interpretation”. Whether the dealing constitutes “research” should be analyzed from the perspective of the user or consumer rather than the online service provider since it is the consumer who uses the preview for the purpose of conducting research to identify which musical work to purchase. As a result, the Court concluded that the previews were provided for the purposes of research.
The second step of the test required determining whether the use of the previews was “fair” in accordance with the six CCH factors: (i) the purpose, (ii) character and (iii) amount of the dealing, (iv) the existence of any alternatives to the dealing, (v) the nature of the work, and (vi) the effect of the dealing on the work. The Court concluded that: (i) the main purpose to provide previews was to facilitate the consumer’s research purposes; (ii) the previews were streamed and not downloaded, after listening, the preview was automatically deleted from the user’s computer, and copies could not be duplicated or further disseminated; (iii) regarding the quantity, the Court confirmed the “amount” meant the “quantity of the work taken”, the proportion of the excerpt used in relation to the whole work; (iv) previews were found to be reasonably necessary to help consumers research what to purchase since there were no other reasonable alternatives that could effectively preview the musical work; (v) previews were also necessary in disseminating the work because dissemination required a consumer to be able to locate and identify a work he or she wanted to buy; (vi) since the previews served to increase the sale of the work, they could not be said to be in competition with it, and thus the dealing did not adversely affect the work.