Copyright law in Canada has a complex history. On June 27, 2012 after four attempts in six years, the Copyright Modernization Act, became law. While there was widespread criticism of anti-circumvention measures introduced by Bill C-11, such as the use of digital locks to prevent copyright infringement, one relatively uncontroversial part of the Act allows ‘fair use’ exceptions for education, satire or parody. We asked National Affairs Committee member Grace Westcott, a commercial lawyer who specializes in copyright, to consider the implications of these exceptions.
Parody and satire may be the only thing that everybody agreed on in the protracted and generally acrimonious debates about updating copyright law. The idea was to expand ‘fair dealing’ – the ways we’re free to use other people’s work in our own – to include uses for the purpose of parody and satire. And about bloody time. If there is anybody out there that thinks this is a bad thing, stand up and show yourselves. And now we have it: the Copyright Modernization Act, Bill C-11, received Royal Assent June 27, and will come into force in the next few months. Parodists, start your engines.
There’s always been an argument – a sound one – that parody and satire is a species of criticism for fair dealing purposes
With the inclusion of parody and satire rights in the Act, the job now is to inhabit them. We need to flex those satirical muscles and make sure there is lots of elbow room there. The court will ultimately define the scope of what is fair; meantime, we do. It’s not carte blanche; the uses made of the underlying work have to be fair according to criteria laid down by the Supreme Court to. But the interpretation must be roomy where send-ups are concerned.
We need to flex those satirical muscles and make sure there is lots of elbow room
More scope for eager satirists with no commercial plans in mind is found in the new non-commercial user-generated content exception, an extraordinary provision that throws the door wide open to mash-ups, fan fiction, and dancing-baby videos, with or without parody or satire. But that provision is a whole other discussion.
Grace Westcott is a commercial lawyer focusing on copyright, media and the cultural industries.
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