Canada: L'affaire Canadian Standards Association et les limites de l'utilisation équitable dans un contexte commercial

L'utilisation équitable, élevée au rang de droit des utilisateurs par le plus haut tribunal du pays, demeure une exception à la loi qui ne sera applicable que dans certaines circonstances. Ses fins ne peuvent être interprétées si largement qu'elles permettent l'appropriation non autorisée de la propriété intellectuelle d'un concurrent pour en tirer un profit commercial. C'est en somme ce que le juge Manson de la Cour fédérale a conclu dans une décision récente en matière de violation du droit d'auteur.

L'utilisation équitable (fair dealing en anglais) autorise des actes relatifs à une oeuvre protégée qui constitueraient autrement une violation du droit d'auteur si le défendeur parvient à démontrer :

  1. qu'il a utilisé l'Suvre du demandeur pour l'une des fins mentionnées dans la Loi sur le droit d'auteur (soit l'étude privée, la recherche, la parodie, la satire, la critique, le compte rendu ou la communication de nouvelles) ; et
  2. que l'utilisation elle-même était équitable (détermination qui prend en compte le but, la nature et l'ampleur de l'utilisation, l'existence de solutions de rechange à l'utilisation, la nature de l'Suvre et l'effet de son utilisation).

Dans une série de décisions récentes qui ont eu un grand retentissement, la Cour suprême a qualifié l'utilisation équitable de « droit des utilisateurs ». Elle a également précisé que l'utilisation équitable devait recevoir une interprétation large afin d'établir un équilibre entre le droit à la rémunération de l'auteur et l'intérêt du public dans la dissémination d'Suvres de l'esprit. Les tribunaux ont notamment autorisé en vertu de l'utilisation équitable l'offre d'extraits de chansons de 30 secondes sur un site d'achat de musique en ligne ainsi que la distribution de textes dans des établissements scolaires sans paiement de redevances aux titulaires des droits d'auteur sur les Suvres concernées.

La décision du juge Manson rappelle que l'utilisation équitable, malgré ses contours mouvants, a des limites : il ne suffit pas d'affirmer que le public pourrait bénéficier de l'Suvre résultante pour que toute contrefaçon soit qualifiée d'équitable et, partant, autorisée par la loi.

La demanderesse dans cette affaire était la Canadian Standards Association (CSA), un organisme à but non lucratif qui développe et diffuse des normes techniques dans plusieurs domaines. Dans le cadre de ses activités, la CSA a publié le Code canadien de l'électricité, première partie – 2015 (Code CSA ou Code), Suvre au cSur du litige. La défenderesse était P.S. Knight Co. Ltd., (Knight) une concurrente de CSA, spécialisée dans la publication de versions annotées et simplifiées du Code.

Jusqu'en 2010, une entente entre CSA et le fondateur de Knight permettait à cette dernière de citer des extraits des versions antérieures du Code. Suite à la retraite du fondateur de Knight, la relation entre les parties s'est détériorée et CSA a avisé Knight que celle-ci n'avait plus aucune autorisation pour utiliser le contenu du Code CSA. Knight a malgré tout indiqué qu'elle avait l'intention de publier son propre code de l'électricité (Code Knight), essentiellement une copie du Code CSA selon l'aveu de Knight. CSA a conséquemment intenté le recours ayant mené à la présente décision, alléguant que la publication du Code Knight constituait une violation de son droit d'auteur sur le Code CSA.

Comme Knight a admis avoir reproduit la totalité du Code, l'analyse de la Cour a pour l'essentiel porté sur les diverses défenses invoquées par Knight. Le juge Manson a dans un premier temps conclu que le droit d'auteur subsistait dans le Code, que CSA détenait les droits d'auteurs sur son contenu et que Knight ne bénéficiait d'aucune licence l'autorisant à en reproduire des extraits ou la totalité.

Se tournant vers la défense d'utilisation équitable, le juge a rejeté l'allégation de Knight suivant laquelle la publication et la vente du Code Knight constituait une utilisation équitable pour fins de recherche et d'étude privée. Knight avançait notamment que le Code Knight, de la perspective de son utilisateur ultime, permettait d'effectuer des recherches et de mieux comprendre les réglementations provinciales en matière de normes de l'électricité, qui incorporent par renvoi le Code CSA. Knight prétendait également que, comme la CSA touchait des revenus importants de la vente du Code relativement à ses coûts de production, la CSA ne serait pas affectée négativement par la recherche que permettrait le Code Knight.

Le juge Manson a conclu que le Code Knight était clairement un produit concurrent du Code CSA. Toute prétention qu'il viserait des fins éducatives, de recherche ou d'étude privée est donc sans mérite. Le juge a également relevé que l'ampleur de la reproduction militait fortement contre le caractère équitable de l'utilisation. Quand un contrefacteur copie 100% d'une Suvre, l'utilisation ne peut être équitable.

L'analyse du juge Manson, aussi brève que catégorique, tranche avec la tendance récente à élargir toujours davantage le champ d'application de l'utilisation équitable. Il est encore trop tôt pour parler d'un retour du balancier, mais cette décision suggère que les tribunaux refuseront d'autoriser au nom du « droit des utilisateurs » des actes d'appropriation qui ne visent qu'à conférer un avantage commercial, surtout quand la portion empruntée est très importante.


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