07. What is fair dealing and how does it relate to copyright?

Fair dealing is a user’s right in copyright law permitting use, or "dealing" with, a copyright-protected work without permission or payment. The fair dealing exception in the Copyright Act allows users to use other people’s copyright-protected work for the purpose of research, private study, criticism, review, news reporting, education, satire, or parody, provided that what users do with the work is "fair". Whether something is "fair" depends on several factors:

  • the purpose of the dealing (commercial or research/educational)
  • the amount of the dealing (how much was copied)
  • the character of the dealing (what was done with the work, whether it was an isolated use or an ongoing, repetitive use, and how widely it was distributed)
  • alternatives to the dealing (if the work was necessary for the end result or if the purpose could have been achieved without using the work)
  • the nature of the work (if there was a public interest in its dissemination or if it was previously unpublished work)
  • the effect of the dealing on the original work (to what extent the use competes with the market of the original work)

A use does not need to meet every one of these factors in order to be fair, and no one factor is determinative by itself. In the case of a legal dispute, a court would look at all relevant factors to determine if, on balance, a person's use is fair. For more guidance on how to apply the fair dealing factors to your particular circumstances, please review our Fair Dealing flow chart.

If, having taken these considerations into account, you can characterize the use as "fair" and for the purpose of research, private study, criticism, review, news reporting, education, satire, or parody, then it falls within the fair dealing exception and does not require permission from the copyright owner. In addition, if your purpose is criticism, review, or news reporting, you must also mention the source and the author of the work for the use to be considered fair dealing (for more information on attribution, see question 13). For further clarity and additional information about limits on the amount and nature of copying permitted under fair dealing in certain contexts, please see the Fair Dealing Advisory prepared by legal counsel for the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC).

Please note that it’s important to distinguish "fair dealing" from "fair use." The fair use exception in U.S. copyright law is NOT the equivalent of fair dealing in Canadian law. The wording of the two exceptions is different. It is important to make sure that you consider the rules of Canadian copyright law and aren’t relying on information about U.S. copyright law.

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