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York University to appeal federal court copyright decision

York University says it will appeal a recent court ruling that it avoided paying reproduction fees on copyrighted material handed out to students.

York says it will appeal the decision in advance of the court’s Oct. 2 deadline. In a July 31 statement, general counsel Maureen Armstrong says, “York will continue to respect copyright law, including during the appeal process, through a comprehensive system that includes permissions, library licenses and acquisitions, transactional licenses and application of the fair dealing provision of the Copyright Act. … The University will continue to seek potential improvements to our system of copyright compliance and will make modifications where prudent.”

Justice Michael L. Phelan, in his July 13 decision, enforced Access Copyright’s interim tariff over York’s own fair-dealing program, which allows 10 per cent of a copyrighted material to be copied and distributed for course work without paying royalties to its creator. York opted out of Access Copyright’s tariff program in March 2011, following the federal election call and the resulting death of Bill C-32/Copyright Modernization Act. Justice Phelan deemed York’s adopted guidelines as “not fair in either their terms or their application.”

The Writers’ Union of Canada released a statement in response to news of the appeal, reinforcing the organization’s commitment to “working with educators and students toward a respectful new agreement on educational copying.”

Writers’ Union chair Marjorie Doyle says in the statement: “The court was exceedingly clear in its decision on these copying practices. It’s rather difficult to imagine how York thinks it might win an appeal. In the meantime, students are back in classrooms within a month, and their teachers are left in a legal limbo about what they can and can’t do.”

The Association of Canadian Publishers also released a statement, calling on York “to stop relying on the copying policies that the Court found unfair, to end the illegal behaviours that result from those policies, and to re-engage in negotiations on fair compensation for the copying and use of copyright-protected materials.”

It is unclear what effect, if any, the appeal will have on the future of the Copyright Act, which is currently undergoing its mandated five-year review with Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly.