Access Copyright




The Canadian Copyright Act details the rights of copyright holders, which states that, by default, copyright gives absolute rights to creators over their original work. Those wishing to reproduce said work must therefore acquire permission from the copyright holder. It is considered an infringement of copyright to make copies or reproduce all, or even a substantial amount, of a copyright-protected work without the explicit consent of the rightful holder.

However, there are instances where Fair Dealing exempts one from acquiring permission from the owner. When a work is used for education, research, private study, parody, satire, criticism, or news reporting, and the use is considered “fair” under the Supreme Court of Canada, a work does not require permission to be copied. Fair use includes the assessment of alternative options, and how the use and reproduction of the copyrighted material will affect its market value. This provision, and further detail surrounding Canadian Copyright Law can be found here.

Access Copyright and Fair Dealing

As a non-profit, national organization representing various creators and their work, Access Copyright licenses the reproduction of their artists’ materials to institutions and businesses, collecting proceeds from copied content and distributing it to the proper copyright holders. Educational institutions, which include many Canadian universities, enter into a license agreement with Access Copyright that gives permission to professors and students to photocopy and reproduce a certain amount of copyrighted works. Universities are charged a base rate per each full-time student, a cost that is added to a student’s tuition as a mandatory fee.

However, as Access Copyright has continued to substantially increase their fees, many universities have begun to opt out of their agreements. This included York University, who decided to break their contract with the copyright collective to save students money on additional fees. To continue to copy and distribute materials, York relied on the provisions of Fair Dealing for protection, as the reproduction of selected works for course packs was intended for the educational use. In 2017, the Federal Court of Canada ruled against York University in a legal battle with Access Copyright, deciding that the University’s continued use and reproduction of copyrighted works did not fall under fair dealing.

This was a contentious verdict, as many sided with York University’s decision to break their agreement over rising tariffs that subsequently accrued significant costs for both the institution and students. During a time where open access models are becoming increasingly apparent, and alternative and more affordable agreements can be found, some wonder the value of an Access Copyright license. Others, however, adamantly argue that creators and producers of written work need to be adequately compensated for their ideas, research, and labour. Is it possible for these opposing views to be mediated?

Think before you ink
While some argue that fair dealing allows ideas and works to be discovered and built off, it does not excuse the very serious legal repercussions that can occur as the result of copyright infringement. Before using, reproducing, or performing any work that is not your own (including books, journals, songs, plays, artwork, or films), ask yourself:

    1. • Is this work under copyright, or is it a part of the public domain?
    1. • Do you know who the proper copyright holder is?
    1. • Have you received explicit permission from the current copyright holder to reproduce their work (in part or in full)?
    1. • Are you able to find similar material through open access initiatives?


The Digital Tattoo Project encourages critical discussion on topics surrounding digital citizenship and online identity. Please feel free to post your thought in the comments section below! There are no correct answers and every person will view these topics from a different perspective. Be sure to complete the previous sections before answering the questions.

    1. What are your expectations from your institution on providing access to copyrighted material?
    2. Are there ways we navigate adequately compensating creators while also providing fair access of materials to students?

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