The Supreme Court of Canada Decision in LSUC v. CCH Limited (March, 2004)

On March 4, 2004 the Supreme Court of Canada released its decision in the case of Law Society of Upper Canada v. CCH Limited [2004] S.C.J. No. 12, (2004) 236 D.L.R. (4th) 395 holding (i) that the Copyright Act's fair dealing exception should be liberally interpreted to prevent undue restraint of users' rights and (ii) that the provision of self-service photocopiers does not equal an infringement of copyright.


The Law Society of Upper Canada operates a law library in Toronto where it provides both self-service photocopiers and a photocopy service to members of the legal profession. In 1993, a group of legal publishers commenced a copyright action against the Law Society arguing copyright infringement and the Law Society responded with a counterclaim that copyrights were not violated when library staff or patrons made a copy of reported or summarized judicial decisions, legislation or excerpts from treatises. At the Trial Division, the Federal Court allowed the action in part and dismissed the counterclaim holding that the Law Society had infringed copyright in certain instances. This was confirmed on appeal when the Federal Court held that all legal materials in the library were subject to copyright protection.

At the Supreme Court level however, a unanimous bench held that the Law Society did not infringe copyright when library staff or patrons made single copies of the specified works for lawyers, in accordance with Law Society policy. The court ruled that such copying is permitted under section 29 of the Copyright Act, which allows copying for the purpose of research or private study. As well, the Law Society did not authorize the infringement of copyright by providing a photocopier in the library and, while headnotes, case summaries, topical indices and edited judicial decisions all attracted copyright protection as original works, judicial reasoning on its own did not.

Impact of this Decision

This decision means that patrons of the Great Library, and impliedly other legal libraries, can access and make copies of court decisions and legal commentary for their own research and private study purposes. Please see Professor Michael Geist's article "Low-tech case has high-tech impact" and the Law Society's article "Law Society Welcomes Supreme Court of Canada Landmark Copyright Decision."