Colbert and Stewart: Copyright fair dealing

Have you ever wondered how Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart can reproduce news clips without being sued for copyright infringement?

Just because something is under copyright doesn’t mean it cannot be copied or used by someone other than the author. Colbert and Stewart, as pundits who report on current events, criticize and perform parodies and satire, can rightly claim “fair use” under US copyright law in their use of news clips on their shows to avoid copyright infringement.

Similar to fair use in the US, under the fair dealing provisions of the Canadian Copyright Act, the Canadian general public can also use a copyrighted work without infringing copyright.

In general, fair dealing for the purpose of research, private study, criticism or review, or news reporting does not infringe copyright.  As long as the reproduction was “fair”, there is no copyright infringement.

The second step, whether the dealing is fair, depends on the facts of each case.  In CCH v. LSUC, 2004 SCC 13, the Supreme Court of Canada set out six non-exhaustive factors to determine whether a dealing is “fair”:

  1. the purpose of the dealing;
  2. the character of the dealing;
  3. the amount of the dealing;
  4. alternatives to the dealing;
  5. the nature of the work; and
  6. the effect of the dealing on the work.

These “fairness” factors mean that, for example, a wholesale copying of an entire show would probably not be considered “fair”, even if it was for the purpose of news reporting or criticism. But it does allow for short reproductions of clips a few seconds long, just like the clips reproduced on The Daily Show or the Colbert Report.

 

About David Lam

David Lam is a lawyer practicing business law, real estate law, intellectual property law (patents, trademarks, copyright, licensing), and litigation in the Greater Toronto Area. For more information and to contact David, please visit http://www.davidlam.ca.
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