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Monday, 07 October 2013 09:52
[The following is the text of my presentation at the launch conference for the edited collection of papers: The Copyright Pentalogy: How the Supreme Court of Canada Shook the Foundations of Canadian Copyright Law, Michael Geist, ed., University of Ottawa Press, 2013. The conference took place on October 4, at the University of Ottawa. My chapter in the book, titled “Acknowledging Copyright’s Illegitimate Offspring: User-Generated Content and Canadian Copyright Law”, can be found here.]
The recently revised Copyright Act contains many new exceptions to copyright infringement. Some of these involve additions to existing exceptions (expanding fair dealing to include education, parody and satire, for example), and quite a number of them are exceptions that normalize activities that used to be considered copyright infringement in spite of the fact that everyone engaged in them (like home recording of TV shows, making backup copies of software, or ripping one’s CD collection so that it can be played on an mp3 player).
Today I will talk about one of the new exceptions that is noteworthy because unlike these other exceptions it is not about modernization of the law through updating or adapting the law to well established contexts. The exception for User Generated Content addresses the evolving and emerging ways in which works are created and disseminated in our contemporary digital culture. This exception is situated in the context of a strong collection of SCC jurisprudence that directs courts to consider the importance of balancing creators’ rights against the public interest in innovation, creativity and the broad dissemination of works.
During the long progress of this bill into law, the UGC exception was dubbed the YouTube exception, in reference to what was perhaps its paradigmatic activity. For many, it was the idea that (as happened in the US) a mother might be sued for infringing copyright in music playing in the background of a home video posted to YouTube featuring a cute toddler dancing around, that justified the enactment of the UGC exception.
Yet while this may have been the paradigmatic activity (something that would not have been captured by fair dealing exceptions), the UGC exception is intriguing because it is rather breathtakingly broad in terms of the kinds of activity to which it might apply. From one perspective it is a licence to build on the works of others; from another it is a potentially sharp curtailment of the scope of a copyright holder’s ability to control the use of their work. In the end, the scope and importance of the UGC exception may come down to how its limiting provisions are interpreted: and in this regard, the direction already charted by the SCC in its recent copyright decisions will likely have great bearing.
So – what is UGC? UGC flows from the twin phenomena of deprofessionalization and disintermediation. With the now widespread availability of sophisticated, user-friendly, and increasingly portable technologies and software, ordinary individuals, with no specific training are able to engage in a broad range of activities –creating films, recording or remixing music, compiling information, mashing up different works or different types of works – that were once the exclusive domain of professionals. At the same time, digitization, the internet and the rise of social media have made it possible to disseminate user-created works to a global audience without the need of the traditional intermediaries for content publication and distribution. The result is a profoundly different environment for the creation and dissemination of “works” of all kinds within a rapidly transforming normative environment.
What is new here is not the fact that “users” are generating new content using existing works – people have always done this, and it has been either tolerated (or undetectable) when carried out for private purposes. What is new is the scale of this activity, along with its social, political and economic consequences.
The concept of layered rights in a work is well-established in copyright law. For example, the Copyright Act specifically recognizes the independent copyright that will arise in a translation of a work, notwithstanding the fact that the making or authorization of a translation is one of the exclusive rights of the copyright holder. Musical arrangements are also recognized as works independent of the original (although, if unauthorized, they may also be infringing). The whole category of adaptations of works (in the US, derivative works) recognizes that new works can be created from pre-existing works; but that these works may infringe on copyright in the original.
What the UGC exception injects into this concept of layered rights is the possibility that someone may create a new work using a pre-existing work in which copyright subsists, AND that they may disseminate it widely, so long as they do so non-commercially, and so long as this does not (and this is the tricky part) have a “substantial adverse effect, financial or otherwise, on the exploitation or potential exploitation of the existing work.” The exception offers more than fair dealing, in that the purposes for the creation of the UGC are not restricted in any way. In a sense this exception seems to acknowledge that in contemporary society, people interact with digital content in a wide variety of ways, and that such interactions do serve some public purpose, whether it’s the fostering of creative self-expression, the creation and dissemination of new knowledge, or simply a now accepted way of participating in culture in an interactive manner.
What I would like to do now is look at the potential scope and limitations on the UGC exception, keeping in mind the approach laid down by the SCC to addressing the balance of competing interests in copyright law.
To qualify as UGC for the purposes of this exception, the author of UGC must use an existing work – with no limitations on kind or category; and they must use it to create a new work in which copyright subsists.
This is a very broad definition with the potential to include all manner of works. Leaving aside dancing toddlers, the exception is broad enough to include things such as an unauthorized translation of a work, and a compilation (which can be a work that is comprised of other works). (Of course, it is much broader than this, but I have chosen these two examples to illustrate the sheer scope of the definition of UGC). Indeed, if you take the example of a compilation, it would seem that the UGC exception might finally make legal in Canada the much loved but always illegitimate mix tape – a compilation of songs chosen by its maker for their particular significance or in the hope that they will impress or seduce the recipient. None of the other exceptions – the one for private copies, the exception for copying music onto blank audio recording media, or even fair dealing – would seem to legitimate the act of creating a compilation of musical works for the purpose of giving it to someone else; but the UGC exception seems not only to include such a creature within the definition of UGC, it also legitimates the non-commercial distribution.
Many creators already draw upon pre-existing works in the generation of new works. The UGC “User” is different from other creators largely because the works she draws upon to create her own works are still protected by CR and, unlike other creators who make use of the works of others, she may lack the economic ability to obtain a licence for her use of the work. Unlike other creators, her immediate expressive goals may also be served by non-commercial dissemination.
It will be interesting to see whether the implicit view that UGC is somehow parasitic in nature colours how UGC is dealt with by the courts in cases where the source work or works are ones in which the subsistence or scope of copyright might reasonably be challenged. Thus, for example, assume that the UGC work is a mashup of data, or an app that makes use of data from other sources. Providers of data, including governments at all levels in Canada, tend to assert copyright in data in rather broad terms (not all government data, for example, is made available under an open licence, and even the open licences assert copyright in the data sets), so the claim to copyright is there, even though it may be either unsupportable or rather limited in scope. If the creator of a work that is built upon data from other sources decides to commercialize their work, rather than continue to disseminate it at no cost, it will be interesting to see how the UGC exception is reconciled with the use of works in which – to borrow the language of the USSC, copyright is “thin”. In other words, will the focus ultimately be on the legitimacy of the use, or will it be on the legitimacy of the copyright claim? What I wish to underline here is the potential of the UGC exception to push users towards non-commercial dissemination in contexts where commercial dissemination is a real option. One would hope that the strong line on balance taken by the SCC would direct courts towards a careful examination of the underlying copyright claims before shifting their attention to the limits of the exception.
In order to further explore the strengths and weaknesses of this exception and its relationship to other provisions in the Copyright Act, I am going to use an example as an illustration.
A translator typically uses a work protected by copyright as a basis for their translation, which is a work in its own right. The amateur and unauthorized translator used to infringe copyright (unless somehow fair dealing could be asserted) when they created their translation.
Let us assume that Gail is a skilled freelance English/Estonian translator in Canada. She is a huge fan of an obscure Estonian author’s first novel. That author’s market share in Estonia is already small, his publisher, who owns all of the rights in his works, sees no market for an English translation of the book. In her spare time, Gail translates the work and publishes her translation on the Internet, where it begins to develop a following.
To qualify for the UGC exception, the use of the new work or the authorization of its dissemination must be solely for non-commercial purposes. The concept of non-commercial is a tricky one, and it will be interesting to see how it is interpreted. If Gail is not selling copies of her translation on the Internet, this would appear to be non-commercial. On the other hand, if her skilful translation brings attention to her and results in her receiving translation contracts is there now a commercial dimension to her posting of the work? Does it make a difference whether she posts the translation on Facebook or Wattpad, or whether it is placed on her personal website which she also uses to advertise her services as a translator?
The non-commercial restriction is only for the creator of the UGC. Dissemination of the UGC may be carried out for the commercial purposes of the intermediary. Thus it is not an objection to argue that YouTube or Facebook are commercial enterprises. Their role in disseminating the UGC does not disqualify the UGC from the application of the exception. Of course, this creates an interesting dynamic, since it means that SOMEONE may be commercially exploiting the original copyright protected work – if not, perhaps the creator of the UGC. The growing popularity of Gail’s translation may drive users towards a website that features advertising content. This indirect commercial exploitation may frustrate copyright owners. Yet as the SCC has now repeatedly confirmed, the broad dissemination of works is a public good, and one against which owners’ rights must be balanced. Since advertising is a part of the business model for sites that aggregate and disseminate UGC, this commercial dimension may be tolerated as a necessary evil in order to achieve broad dissemination.
Perhaps the most open-ended limitation on UGC – and one which is most problematic for those who wish to rely on the exception is that which precludes uses that do not “have a substantial adverse effect, financial or otherwise, on the exploitation or potential exploitation of the existing work”. Unfortunately, this is “shut down” language. It is open-ended enough that it might not only discourage a creator of UGC from disseminating work online, it might be the meat of a very intimidating cease and desist letter. In the case of Gail’s translation, it may be that the growing popularity of the work as a result of her translation means that there is now a market for an English-language translation of the book – although this market is now adversely affected by the availability of Gail’s free translation. As a non-commercial content creator is unlikely to have pockets deep enough to withstand the threat of litigation, this kind of language may unfortunately gut much of what is promising and interesting about this exception.
It is also not clear whether the moral rights provisions of the Copyright Act will operate to limit the creation and dissemination of UGC. The UGC exception provides that qualifying UGC will not infringe copyright, but it is silent as to moral rights. Where the UGC can be argued to result in a mutilation or modification of the original work to the prejudice of the honour or reputation of the creator, then it will be in violation of the creator’s moral right to integrity. Assume that the original author of the work feels that Gail’s translation creates an entirely different mood to the book than that which he believes he created in his own work, or that she has chosen to have the characters speak in a particularly informal kind of English which he feels is completely inappropriate. Jurisprudence on moral rights is relatively uneven and unhelpful; it is not clear how the UGC exception, the need to create a balance of rights, and the moral rights provisions will be reconciled with each other.
Finally, it is worth asking what the relationship is of UGC to the fair dealing exception. The Supreme Court of Canada has now sent repeated strong messages about how the user’s right of fair dealing should be interpreted and applied.
UGC has an interesting relationship to fair dealing: Not all UGC will fit within the fair dealing exceptions, but some will. For example, UGC that is parodic or satirical may also qualify as fair dealing. As the SCC has already told us that fair dealing is always available as an exception notwithstanding other applicable exceptions, one can assume that a parody or satire that is exploited commercially and that therefore does not qualify for the UGC exception, might still be considered under the fair dealing provisions. Gail might perhaps argue that the translation of the work was for the purposes of the potentially very broad category of “education”; she was hoping to educate the public about a talented but obscure Estonian writer. In that case, the fact that the work may have an adverse effect on some potential market for the work is only one of the factors that would be taken into account by a court in an assessment of fair dealing.
Although there is much interpretive uncertainty surrounding this new exception, what the messages sent by the SCC in the copyright pentalogy do is signal an approach to the interpretation of all of the copyright exceptions in a manner that achieves a proper balance between the competing public interests served by copyright law. In particular, the emphasis on the importance of the dissemination of works – including and perhaps in particular their dissemination over the internet, will signal to other courts the need to take into account the value and centrality of this mode of communication in contemporary society, as well as the shifting dynamic of the creation and dissemination of works.
Monday, 09 September 2013 13:45
A recent US copyright law decision addresses one aspect of the question of how copyright law applies to documents that are submitted as part of public processes – in this case, court proceedings. These issues have cropped up in Canada in a couple of fairly recent instances. For example, there is an ongoing class action lawsuit launched by lawyers in private practice who object to the defendant’s inclusion of court documents authored by lawyers into their commercial products without consent or compensation. Another Canadian court refused to certify a class action law suit on behalf of land surveyors who objected to the inclusion of their land surveys into an electronic land registry database without licence or compensation. Although the class was not certified, the court did offer some interesting views regarding ownership of copyright in the documents.
The US decision, Unclaimed Property Recovery Service Inc. v. Kaplan comes from the Court of Appeals, Second Circuit. In this case, the plaintiffs had previously been involved with a class action law suit, for which they had prepared the first class action complaint and compiled the accompanying exhibits. Kaplan was the attorney representing the class. He signed and filed the documents on behalf of the class. When the complaint was dismissed as being outside the prescribed delays, he filed an appeal. Before the appeal was decided, Kaplan and the plaintiffs had a falling out. The plaintiffs retained new lawyers; Kaplan continued on as attorney of record for the class action law suit.
The appeal proceeded and was eventually successful, and leave was granted to file an amended complaint, which was done. The amended complaint was based upon the first complaint and its accompanying documents, and indeed “[s]ignificant portions of the Second Complaint and Second Exhibits were identical to portions of the First Complaint and First Exhibits.” Meanwhile, the plaintiffs registered copyrights in these documents and proceeded to sue Kaplan for having infringed their copyrights in the complaint and exhibits. They sought both an injunction and damages. The district court dismissed the plaintiffs’ action and it proceed on to the Court of Appeals, which unanimously dismissed the appeal.
The Court of Appeals found that when a person who holds copyright in litigation documents authorizes a party to the litigation to make use of the documents, “such an authorization necessarily conveys, not only to the authorized party but to all present and future attorneys and to the court, an irrevocable authorization to use the document in the litigation thereafter.” The Court noted that any other outcome would jeopardize the litigation system. It noted that “[t]he courts could not thoroughly and fairly adjudicate a matter if suddenly in the midst of litigation the parties lost the right to give the court copies of documents already used in the litigation that support their arguments.” It went on to find that the copyright holder who authorizes a party to use documents in litigation must know that as a consequence these documents may be reproduced and distributed for purposes related to that litigation. The Court added that in this context, “[t]he needs of the courts prevail over the copyright holder’s selfish interests, and the authorization becomes irrevocable as to the participants in the litigation for the purposes of the litigation.” The authorization would extend to incorporating all or part of the documents into an amended complaint, as happened in this case.
The Court also noted that to allow the interests of a copyright holder to trump those of parties to the litigation could lead to serious ethical consequences. For example, an attorney who drafts legal pleadings for a client could not invoke her copyright in these pleadings to limit their use without breaching her ethical obligations to that client. A lawyer should also not be able to use his copyright in documents to thwart a client’s attempt to change attorneys. Finally, the court noted that to accept the plaintiff’s arguments would hamper the authority of courts to manage their own affairs: a court order requiring parties to amend their pleadings should not run up against copyright claims in those pleadings.
The decision seems eminently sensible, but it does not resolve some of the other copyright issues that swirl around documents submitted as part of legal processes. For example, it does not address the issue raised in Waldman v. Thomson Reuters Corporation, which turns on whether copyright in documents that are part of a public court record can be asserted against a publisher that seeks to commercialize these documents – albeit in works aimed at assisting lawyers in their practice. The Second Circuit Appeals Court was careful to emphasize that their decision reached only to the particular facts of the case before them – the issue was whether copyright law could be used to prevent the class action plaintiffs from making use of documents which they had previously been authorized to use. The court noted: “We do not decide whether a party who is authorized to file a legal pleading in one case is also authorized to file it in others cases. We do not decide whether the parties to the litigation may use the pleading for other purposes unrelated to the litigation.” And, of course, they do not decide whether those pleadings, as part of the public record, can be used by others for their own purposes.
Wednesday, 04 September 2013 13:34
A recent decision of the Ontario Supreme Court offers a relatively rare glimpse into how copyright laws are applied to artistic works in Canada.
The plaintiff in this case, visual artist Malcolm Rains, painted a series of oil paintings over a period of 22 years. He calls this series the “Classical Series” and it currently comprises over 200 paintings. Each of these paintings is a still life of a sheet of crumpled paper against a particular background. The defendant is visual artist Lucian Bogdan Molea. In 2000, Molea began painting still lifes of crumpled paper. Rains brought suit against Molea, arguing that he had infringed his copyright in individual canvases, as well as in his series as a compilation.
Justice Chiappetta began her analysis by considering whether copyright subsisted in the individual canvasses painted by Rains and in the series. She found that the plaintiff’s canvasses met the standard of originality set out by the Supreme Court of Canada, notwithstanding the fact that the he “employed commonplace tropes used by painters for centuries”. The paintings emanated from Rains and were not copies of other works; they also reflected an exercise in skill and judgment that was more than trivial. She rejected the argument that the paintings amounted to an unprotectable merger of idea and expression. Justice Chiappetta noted that the idea was to paint a still life of a crumpled piece of paper; the expression of the idea was found in each individual painting. Recognizing copyright in the paintings did not give Rains a monopoly over the idea.
Although she found that each painting was protected by copyright, Justice Chiappetta reached a different conclusion with respect to the series. It was argued that the series was itself a distinct work, namely, a compilation. To be protected, a compilation must be an original expression that reflects an exercise of skill and judgment. In the case of the series of paintings, there was a concept, and a progression of canvases, but there was not the exercise of skill and judgment necessary to create a compilation. She explained: “There is no originality in the label itself, there is no skilful organizational aspect of the Classical Series that warrants protection for the series as a whole.” (at para 17) The paintings were not specifically selected and/or arranged as part of a collection; rather, the series was an open-ended and evolving category of works. Justice Chiappetta also rejected arguments that the series should be considered a compilation because it evokes a common feeling or “gestalt”. She stated: “it would be unwise to extend copyright protection to the visual perception of an artistic work, which is intangible and subjective.” (at para 22).
Having determined that copyright subsisted in the plaintiff’s individual paintings, Justice Chiappetta next considered whether Molea’s works infringed upon those copyrights. At the outset she dismissed any similarities between the works that were due to “common, long-established artistic techniques”. She also found that these similarities represented “a substantial part of the respective works.” (at para 30) She noted that painting crumpled paper “has been employed as a model since the French Academy was founded in 1664”. (at para 35) Painting it on a flat surface had similarly been around for at least 200 years. She also noted that the choice of certain colours for backgrounds also reflected long established practices. However, Justice Chiappetta was careful to clarify that she was not imposing a “novelty” standard for the protection of artworks under copyright law; rather, an artist: “cannot establish infringement by relying on his use of the noted unoriginal, commonplace, historical painting techniques. This would be akin to Shakespeare relying on his use of iambic pentameter in his writing or Drake relying on his use of 16 bars to a verse in his music.” (at para 40). In other words, the scope of protection available to copyright works must not be so broad as to give rightsholders a monopoly over techniques or practices. Ultimately she found that there were sufficient dissimilarities between the works to conclude that Rains’ canvasses were not the result of copyright infringement, but were original works in their own right.
In rejecting arguments that the defendant’s works might be mistaken for those of the plaintiff, Justice Chiappetta also made an important distinction between a confusion analysis and the analysis required for copyright infringement. A confusion analysis is more common in trademark law, where the question is whether the defendant’s trademark creates confusion in with that used by the plaintiff. Since a trademark is meant to serve as an indicator of source; misrepresenting one’s products or services as those of another is at the heart of trademark infringement. In the copyright context, however, it is not enough to argue that the work of one person is evocative of the work of another, absent proof of infringement. In the words of Justice Chiappetta: “it would be unwise to establish confusion as the test for colourable imitation of an artistic work. This test by its very nature lends itself to the subjective nuances of comparison [. . . ]”. (at para 44) “Confusion” in the context of art might be the result of the use of fairly similar techniques or methods. Further, copyright law allows for independent creation – the creation of even identical works can be tolerated so long as one was not the result of copying of the other.
Justice Chiappetta’s findings on the issue of access are also interesting. Because independent creation is always a theoretically possible explanation of substantially similar works, there must be some evidence that the defendant had access to the works that he or she allegedly copied. In this case, it was clear that Molea had previously seen a number of canvasses in Rains’ series. However, Justice Chiappetta found that this general access to a broad spectrum of work by Rains was not sufficient. Rather, it was necessary to show specific access to those particular works which were allegedly copied. She also refused to presume access on the basis that Molea had only commenced painting canvasses featuring crumpled paper after his move to Canada, when he would first have been exposed to the works of Rains. She found that Molea had provided a logical explanation for the evolution of his work over time.
This case is interesting in its application of copyright principles to the visual arts in a context where it is necessary to separate both concept and techniques and methods from the work itself. A finding of infringement in a case such as this would make it difficult for anyone to paint a crumpled piece of paper without fear of a finding of copyright infringement.
Tuesday, 20 August 2013 07:29
My colleague Michael Deturbide and I are very honoured to have been awarded the 2013 Walter Owen Book Prize for our new book Electronic Commerce and Internet Law in Canada, published by Wolters Kluwer (CCH). We are very grateful to the Foundation for Legal Research, which awards this prize, and which also has been a strong pillar of support for legal research in Canada.
Published in E-Commerce & Internet Law
Thursday, 15 August 2013 10:17
Back in March I wrote about a decision of the Federal Court of Appeal in a dispute over rights in nautical charts and maps. At issue was whether the matter should be resolved on summary judgment or whether it should proceed to trial. The Court decided that it should go to trial. In reaching its decision in the case, the Court made a comment in passing on the wording of a federal government licence agreement that was relevant to the dispute. This comment, which is reproduced in my earlier report on the case, puzzled over the government’s claim in its licence to copyright in its data, given that it was entirely clear in law that there could be no copyright in data.
Leave to appeal this decision to the Supreme Court of Canada has just been denied by that Court. This means that the decision of the Federal Court of Appeal stands, and that the matter should now proceed to trial. The case raises some very interesting copyright issues and will be worth following.
Published in Geospatial Data/Digital Cartography
Wednesday, 17 July 2013 07:49
Last year Canada (finally) responded to the changes wrought by the internet and amended the Copyright Act to address, among other things, the creation, reproduction and dissemination of works in a digital environment. The Supreme Court of Canada has also recently re-emphasized the need to interpret the law in a technologically neutral manner. These developments, however, may still not be enough to prepare us for the new wave of digital reproduction technology that is coming with 3-D printing. As was the case with other digital reproduction technologies, 3-D printing technology is now moving from very expensive devices predominantly in the hands of corporate owners, to increasingly inexpensive technology on the verge of becoming popularized among ordinary consumers. This shift is similar to those which we have already seen with respect to personal and mobile computing.
Three-dimensional objects of widely varying complexity can now be printed using this technology using a variety of materials. A recent news story has even reported on the potential for this technology to print organs for transplant. The printers are evolving to use a wide range of materials that go well beyond the initial plastics and polymers.
Three-dimensional printing is likely to present some significant challenges for intellectual property regimes. This is certainly the thrust of a recent article on the subject in the World Intellectual Property Review (WIPR). Unlike 2-D printing, which is predominantly useful in reproducing works protected by copyright, 3-D printing affects copyright, patent, industrial design and trademark law. We are not far from a future where individuals widely use online file sharing networks to widely distribute plans that will allow for the reproduction of all manner of 3-D objects, including utilitarian objects, replacement parts, jewellery, toys, guns, uniquely configured, eye-catching products, miniatures and action figures based on copyright protected characters from books or movies.
Canada’s IP laws – like those of other countries – may not be fully ready to deal with the challenges posed by affordable and accessible 3-D printing. In the first place, the reproduction of 3-D objects may implicate one or more IP statutes. Three-dimensional objects that are artistic in nature are often protected by copyright law; the drawings or plans for the making of three-dimensional objects may also be protected as artistic works under copyright law. The visual appearance and design features of utilitarian objects can be protected through industrial design registration. Three-dimensional features of objects may, if they are distinctive of their trade source, be protected as trademarks. Functional 3-D items may also be protected under patent law. Clearly, there is IP protection available for 3-D items, but it is highly fragmented which will likely make it harder for individuals and companies to understand the parameters of legal activity. Further, while copyright law has been substantially revised to deal with the challenges posed by easy digital reproduction and the online dissemination of works, the other regimes have not received attention in this regard. Much has also been done to address the different ways in which copyright law may be infringed online – this includes a number of important new defences to copyright infringement that seek to create balance, along with an adjustment of statutory damages available where copying is non-commercial in nature. The other IP laws in Canada are not well adapted to copying by private individuals for non-commercial purposes. Three-dimensional printing may thus bring with it a paradigm shift which will no doubt create tensions between IP owners and users that may ultimately have to be addressed by the legislature. Yet we are still grappling with old-tech IP reform. For example, a new IP Bill C-56, currently before Parliament, addresses counterfeiting under both the trademark and copyright regimes, but the focus of these amendments is on the movement of goods across borders, and on enhancing the available measures to stop the importation of infringing works. Just as the law is moving towards addressing the flow of counterfeit goods across the border, counterfeiting may soon shift to digitally networked 3-D printers, the online dissemination of plans and designs, and small scale reproduction of works by multiple and widely dispersed individuals.
Wednesday, 03 July 2013 09:48
The Alberta rock band named Jr. Gone Wild has been in the news after Alberta’s Department of Culture ordered it to stop using a modified version of the province’s official emblem as part of the band’s logo. A photo of the band’s logo can be viewed along with the Edmonton Journal article on this issue.
A law titled the Emblems of Alberta Act makes it an offence to use “for commercial or business purposes” the armorial bearings of Alberta without consent. It is also an offence to use “any design so nearly resembling the armorial bearings of Alberta or any portion of them as to be calculated to deceive”. Although the band is using the arms for commercial purposes (it is selling T-Shirts emblazoned with its logo), it is not clear that this use of the modified design is calculated to deceive anyone. It remains an open question whether anyone viewing the logo would be led to believe that the band is in any way the official rock band of Alberta.
The Minister of Culture has also enacted regulations governing official emblems. According to these regulations, the emblem can be reproduced, used or displayed for non-commercial purposes so long as the use or display is in good taste. Commercial use is also permitted under certain conditions. These are that the use:
(a) is free from any implication that the commercial or business purposes have any approval or accreditation from the Government,
(b) is based on original drawings obtained from the Government, and
(c) conforms, in the opinion of the Minister, to good taste.
The regulations are not clear about whether a modified version of the emblem can be used at all. For example, it is not clear whether the “good taste” requirement relates to modifications, or simply to the context in which the emblem is to be used. According to the story in the Edmonton Journal, it is not yet clear whether the band will change its logo and dispose of its unsold merchandise, or whether it will disregard the Minister’s order.
It is not unusual for governments to pass laws to protect their official emblems and insignia. For example there are similar statutes in Saskatchewan (with much stiffer penalties), and in Manitoba. There is certainly a public interest in ensuring that people are not misled into believing that certain products or services have been offered or endorsed by the government when they have not. Provincial arms, crests and flags are also listed as prohibited marks under s. 9(1)(e) of the Trade-marks Act. This means that these marks, or ones “so nearly resembling as to be likely to be mistaken” for them may not be adopted or used “in connection with a business, as a trade-mark or otherwise”. Thus there is ample law to protect against misuse of these signs or symbols.
The question is, of course, what the limits of freedom of expression are when it comes to the insignia of government, or other public symbols. According to the report in the Edmonton Journal, the band sees itself as “just doing art”. Artistic expression is, of course, protected expression in Canada. Yet like other of Canada’s civil liberties, it is subject to “reasonable limits demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.
The Royal Canadian Mint recently backed down from a demand for licensing fees from a musician who used images of the penny on his album cover. There was also considerable controversy in Nova Scotia in the mid-2000’s when a company charged with the maintenance and operation of the Bluenose II began demanding licensing fees from local businesses who used the name or image of the iconic schooner. Of course, in each of these cases it was the symbol or name itself that was used, and not a modified version. And, while iconic, the penny and the Bluenose are not official insignia of government. The question remains as to how the balance should be struck between the public interest in the protection of official arms and insignia and the public interest in the freedom to use these insignia as a vehicle for expression.
Published in Trademarks
Tuesday, 18 June 2013 09:54
With little fanfare, the Canadian government has released its much awaited, newly revised Open Government Licence. The previous version that had been available on its Open Data site was a beta version on which public comments were invited. The government has also published its Open Government Licence Consultation Report, which summarizes and discusses the comments received during the consultation process.
The revised version of the licence is an improvement over its predecessor. Gone is the claim to database rights which do not exist in Canada. (These rights do exist in the UK, the Open Government Licence of which was a template for the Canadian licence). The new licence also discards the UK term “personal data” and replaces it with “personal information”, and it gives this term the meaning ascribed under the federal Privacy Act. The language used in the licence has been further simplified, making it even more accessible.
It should be noted that Alberta’s new open government licence – released as part of the launch of its open government portal earlier this year – is very similar to V2.0 of the federal government licence. There are some minor formatting differences, and a few changes in wording, most of which can be explained by the different jurisdiction (for example, the definition of “personal information” refers to Alberta’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act). The similarities between the two licences are no coincidence. Although the Alberta licence was made public prior to the release of the federal government’s V2.0, work has been going on behind the scenes to move towards some form of federal/provincial consensus on the wording of open government licences with a view to ensuring that there is legal interoperability between data sets released by different governments in Canada. The efforts to reduce barriers to interoperability (whether legal or technical) are important to the ability of Canadians to work with and to integrate different data sets in new and innovative ways. Thus not only is the COGL V2.0 to be welcomed, so are the signs that cooperation and coordination may lead to a greater legal interoperability of open government licences across Canada.
Published in Geospatial Data/Digital Cartography
Tuesday, 14 May 2013 13:21
Is it “legal” to post your fan fiction tribute to Star Trek online? Or to post a video of your children cavorting to a pop song? The recent amendments to Canada’s Copyright Act have, among other things, added an exception to the basic rules of infringement for user-generated content (UGC). According to this exception, user-generated content is some form of work (literary, artistic, dramatic or musical) that would be eligible for copyright protection in its own right, and that is built upon or integrates the copyright protected work of another. This would clearly seem to cover both of the examples given above. Recognizing that individuals now interact with digital works for all kinds of private and expressive purposes, the federal government has moved these activities from the realm of copyright infringement, and legitimized them – so long as the resultant UGC is non-commercial and has no substantial adverse effect (financial or otherwise) on the original.
The UGC exception is not the only new exception in the Act to normalize activities which, prior to the amendments, were considered infringing. For example, it used to be an infringement of copyright in Canada to record television shows to watch at a later time, and to make copies of legally acquired works so that they could be stored in electronic form, put on an MP3 player, or used for some other private purpose. These were activities in which Canadians routinely engaged, and sensibly, new exceptions now render them non-infringing. The UGC exception is also not the only new exception to carve out more room for expressive interactions with works. The fair dealing provision, which used to apply only to the fair use of works for the purposes of research, private study, criticism, comment or news reporting, now also permits the fair use of works for the purposes of education, parody or satire. The UGC exception thus fits within a framework of exceptions that normalize how people commonly interact with works and that encourage creative engagement with works – within certain limits.
During the debates on the amendments to the Copyright Act, the UGC exception was referred to as the “You Tube” exception, because it seemed that the paradigmatic act contemplated by this section was the home video posted on You Tube that incidentally incorporated a popular song. Yet the exception has potentially enormous breadth: there are so many ways in which existing copyright works can be incorporated into new works. The exception permits not just the making of these ‘mashups’, it permits the non-commercial dissemination of the new work. Translations and adaptations of existing works would appear to meet the definition of UGC. Compilations (mix tapes, anthologies, etc) would also seem to qualify. Those who create maps using the data sets of others and post them online may also find comfort in the UGC exception. Perhaps unwittingly, this exception appears to give great scope for the creation and distribution of works based upon the work of others. Of course, other than being non-commercial, the dissemination must not have no substantial adverse effect (financial or otherwise) on the work(s) incorporated into the UGC – it remains to be seen how much limiting effect these ‘weasel words’ will have.
[For a more detailed discussion of the UGC exception in Canada’s Copyright Act, I invite you to read my chapter on the subject in Michael Geist’s new collection of essays on copyright law, titled The Copyirght Pentalogy: How the Supreme Court of Canada Shook the Foundations of Canadian Copyright Law. Published by the University of Ottawa Press, this book and all its chapters is also available free online under a Creative Commons licence.]
Monday, 29 April 2013 11:18
If there is any need for further evidence that the official marks provision in s. 9(1)(n)(iii) of the Trade-marks Act is in dire need of reform, then it can be found in the advertisement by Canada Post in 2005 of official marks in the words POSTAL CODE and CODE POSTAL.
Official marks are a special species of trademark available only to “public authorities.” In theory, a public authority is an entity that is under the control of a federal or provincial government and that acts for the public benefit. While a regular business would have to choose a trademark that does not create confusion with existing registered trademarks, a public authority can pick pretty much any mark it chooses. Further, unlike other businesses, public authorities can choose marks that are generic or descriptive. The adoption of “POSTAL CODE” and “CODE POSTAL” is a case in point. These words are generic: there really are no other words to describe the thing to which they refer – the postal code.
Public authorities also enjoy substantial procedural advantages when it comes to official marks: there is no opposition proceeding for official marks, there is no examination, and there are no registration fees. Once a public authority asks the Registrar to advertise an official mark (and has demonstrated that the mark has been adopted and used) the mark is protected. No one else may adopt, use or register the same mark, or one closely resembling it. Once advertised, such marks live on until voluntarily withdrawn, or removed from the register as a result of costly legal proceedings. For an example of the dysfunction of official marks, consider the fact that both the province of Nova Scotia (no doubt a public authority) and the Bluenose II Preservation Trust Society (almost certainly not a public authority) currently have the identical official mark BLUENOSE on the trademark register.
Official marks have a long history of abuse. The Federal Court has been kept busy trying to establish some standards for official marks – these are entirely absent from the legislation. Thus the court has established a test to aid in determining who qualifies as a “public authority”, has determined that public authorities must be Canadian, and has also set a test to determine whether certain official marks have been adopted and used by the public authority seeking to monopolize them. While the court has done its best, the entire system is flawed and is desperately in need of review.
This brings us back to POSTAL CODE. Canada Post, a public authority, has claimed official mark status for the very words in French and English that describe that series of numbers and letters that form a part of each address for mail delivery purposes. There is no obvious need for Canada Post to monopolize this term. There is no obvious public interest in having it monopolized. Yet ongoing litigation between Canada Post and Canadian company Geolytica suggests that Canada Post may be attempting to use a monopoly in the term POSTAL CODE/CODE POSTAL to make it more difficult for others to compete with it in the area of postal code related products or services. Geolytica, which offers a free online postal code look-up directory and other for-fee services through its Geocoder website is being sued by Canada Post for copyright infringement, and – surprise, surprise – for infringement of its official marks.
The recent report of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology on the Intellectual Property Regime in Canada recommends amendments to the Trade-marks Act to narrow the definition of public authorities to help prevent abuse of official marks “to avoid stifling innovation and distorting markets”. Yet it is important to keep in mind that the problem is not just with those who wrongly claim to be public authorities. Actual public authorities might also use official marks to stifle innovation and distort markets – arguably this is what is happening with the POSTAL CODE/CODE POSTAL mark. Perhaps the reform of the official marks provision needs to be even more profound. Abolishing the category of official marks is a policy option that would require public authorities to play by the same trademark rules as all other businesses. With this as the default position – and with, perhaps, some clear exceptions for the names of government agencies or departments – we might finally see an end to the abuse of official marks.
Published in Trademarks