Teresa Scassa - Blog

Displaying items by tag: intellectual property

The Ontario Small Claims Court has issued a decision in a copyright dispute that is extremely unfriendly to users’ rights or the right to read in Canada. The case involves the increasingly common practice of placing digital content behind a paywall.

In this case, the defendant is the Canadian Vintners Association (CVA). It represents the interests of wine producers in Canada. The plaintiff is the company which produces Blacklock’s Reporter, a news service that provides original digital content to subscribers. The CVA was aware of Blacklock’s Reporter, but had decided that it was not interested in subscribing (at a corporate rate of $11,470 per year.)

On December 13, 2013 Blacklock’s published a story that discussed the testimony of the defendant’s president and CEO, Dan Pazsowski, before a Commons Committee. Pazsowski was sent an electronic bulletin notifying him that he had been quoted in the story. Since his company did not have a subscription to the service, he contacted a colleague at another company that did have a subscription and asked if they could forward a copy to him. They did so. He then contacted Blacklock’s to discuss the content of the story, about which he had some concerns. He was asked how he had obtained access to the story, and was later sent an invoice for the cost of two personal subscriptions (because he had shared the story with another employee of his organization). The cost of two subscriptions was $314 plus HST). The defendant’s refusal to pay the invoice ultimately led to the law suit for breach of copyright.

In reaching his decision in this case, Deputy Judge Gilbert was particularly concerned with the fact that the defendant had not complied with the terms and conditions of the plaintiff’s website. However, the website was not the source of the material that was allegedly improperly accessed by Pazowski in this case. The article was shared with Pazsowski by a colleague who had a subscription. If the terms of use of that person’s contact with Blacklock’s prohibited her from sharing any content, then she may have been in breach of her contract. This, however, does not mean that Pazsowski infringed copyright. Receiving and reading a copy of an article sent by another person is not per se copyright infringement.

Judge Gilbert also found that the defendant had unlawfully circumvented technical protection measures in order to access the material in question, in contravention of controversial new provisions of the Copyright Act. It would seem that, in the eyes of the court, to ask someone for a copy of an article legally obtained by that person could amount to a circumvention of technical protection measures. If such an approach were accepted, the scope of the anti-circumvention provision would be disturbingly broad. In fact, in this case, nothing was done to circumvent any technological protection measures. The article was legally accessed by a subscriber. The issue is with the sharing of the content by the subscriber with another, in contravention of the terms of use agreed to by the subscriber.

The defendant had asserted a fair dealing defence, arguing that he had sought access to the article out of concern that it contained inaccuracies that he wanted to take steps to correct. This was argued to be fair dealing for the purpose of research or private study, which is permitted under the Copyright Act. Notwithstanding the very broad scope given to the fair dealing exception by the Supreme Court of Canada, Judge Gilbert ruled that there was no fair dealing. He wrote: “it cannot be said that the purpose here was genuine given the fact that nothing came of the research (obtaining the full article) once obtained. Giving the Defendants the benefit of the doubt here that the intention was genuine, the follow through was not.” (at para 57). This novel proposition suggests that research must result in some concrete or tangible outcome to amount to fair dealing. As any researcher knows, there may be many false starts or cold trails. In any event, the court seems to overlook the fact that Pazowski actually contacted Blacklock’s to discuss their article with them. It was this contact that led to the lawsuit. Justice Gilbert also rejected the fair dealing claim on the basis that the article had not been legally obtained. This, of course, is a significant fair dealing issue in the context of paywalls and other barriers to access to works. Given, however, that Pazowski obtained the article from someone with legal access to the database, there was room here for a more nuanced assessment.

If the decision itself is not enough to raise your eyebrows, then the damage award surely will. Keep in mind that the plaintiffs originally sought the price of two personal annual subscriptions as compensation for the access to the article by the defendant ($314 plus HST). The court ordered damages in the amount of $11,470 plus HST – the cost of a corporate annual subscription. Judge Gilbert cited as justification for this amount the fact that the defendants “continued to stand steadfast to the notion that they had done nothing wrong while knowing that they had taken steps to bypass the paywall.” (at para 64). In addition, he awarded $2000 in punitive damages.

A business that is entirely reliant on providing content behind a paywall clearly has an interest in ensuring that access to that content is limited to subscribers to the extent possible. But does this mean that no other access to the content can be tolerated? A person who has legally purchased a book may lend it to another to read. Is there room for the law adopt an equivalent approach for content behind pay walls? It certainly does not seem appropriate that a news service can publish articles about individuals and then have the courts support them in their attempts to so securely lock down that content that the individual cannot even see what was written about them without having to pay for an annual subscription. This decision is so entirely lacking in the balance mandated by the Supreme Court of Canada that one can only hope it is nothing more than a strange outlier.


Published in Copyright Law

It is not every day that courts are asked to interpret Creative Commons licenses, which is what makes the recent U.S. decision in Drauglis v. Kappa Map Group, LLC of particular interest.

Creative Commons offers a suite of licenses that can be used by those seeking to license their copyright-protected works under terms that facilitate different levels of sharing and use. Some licenses are virtually without restriction; others restrict uses of the work to non-commercial uses; contain requirements to give attribution to the author of the work; or require that any derivative works made using the licensed work by made available under similar license terms (Share-Alike). The licenses are available in multiple languages and have been adapted to the laws of a variety of different countries. They are even used for open government licensing of works in countries like Australia and New Zealand.

In this case, the plaintiff Art Drauglis was a photographer who had posted a photograph on Flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license (CC BY-SA 2.0). The defendant was a company that published maps and map-related products. It downloaded a copy of the plaintiff’s photograph from Flickr, and used it on the cover of an atlas it published titled “Montgomery co., Maryland Street Atlas”. The atlas was sold commercially, and the defendant claimed copyright in it. The copyright notice for the atlas appeared its first page, along with its table of contents. On the rear cover of the atlas, the title of the plaintiff’s photograph was provided as well as the information about the name of the photographer and the fact that it was used under a CC-BY-SA-2.0 license.

The plaintiff’s first claim – that the defendant had breached his copyright in the photograph – was quickly rejected by the Court. The District Court (District of Columbia) found that the defendant had used the image under license. Further, the license specifically permitted commercial uses of the image. Thus the plaintiff was limited to arguing that the defendant’s use of the photograph was not in compliance with the terms of the license. There were 3 main arguments regarding non-compliance. These were that: 1) the Share-Alike condition of the license was breached by the defendant’s commercial sale of the atlas; 2) the defendant did not include a proper Uniform Resource Identifier for the CC license as required by the license terms; and 3) the defendant did not provide the proper attribution for the photograph as required by the license.

The CC BY-SA 2.0 license requires that derivative works made using the licensed works also be made available under the same or comparable license terms. The plaintiff therefore argued that the defendant breached this term by publishing the atlas commercially and not under an equivalent license. The court disagreed. It found that the CC license contemplated two categories of re-use of the licensed work – in a “collective work” (defined in the license as a “periodical issue, anthology or encyclopedia, in which the Work in its entirety in unmodified form” is included with other contributions into a collective whole), or as a “derivative work” (defined in the license as a “work based upon the Work. . . in which the Work may be recast, transformed, or adapted”.) It is only derivative works that must be licensed under comparable license terms. The court found that the use of the photograph in this case was as part of a collective work. That collective work was the atlas, consisting of a series of separate works (maps) compiled together with other elements, including the plaintiff’s photograph, in a book. The court rejected arguments that the photograph had been cropped, and was thus “recast, transformed or adapted” rather than incorporated “in its entirety in unmodified form”. It was not persuaded that any cropping had taken place; if it had it was so minor in nature that it was inconsequential.

The CC BY-SA 2.0 license also requires that the licensee “must include a copy of, or the Uniform Resource Identifier for, this License with every copy . . . of the Work”. The plaintiff argued that this clause had been violated by the defendant because it only referred to the license as a CC-BY-SA 2.0 license and did not provide a URL for the license. The court distinguished between a Uniform Resource Identifier (URI) and a URL, noting that ‘URI’ is a term with a broader meaning than URL. While providing a URL might meet this requirement, providing the abbreviated name and version of the license met the requirement for a URI. The court noted that anyone searching the internet for “CC BY-SA 2.0” would easily arrive at the proper license.

The plaintiff also argued that the defendant did not properly attribute authorship of the photograph to the plaintiff in accordance with the terms of the license. The license required that any credit given to the author of a work in a derivative or collective work must, at a minimum, “appear where any other comparable authorship credit appears and in a manner at least as prominent as such other comparable authorship credit.” (Section 4(c)). Because the copyright information for the atlas as a whole appeared on the inside front page and the credit for the cover photo appeared on the back of the atlas, the plaintiff argued that this condition was not met. However, the court found that copyright information was provided for each map on each page of the atlas, and that this type of credit was comparable to that provided for the cover photograph. The court found that “the Photograph is more akin to each of the individual maps contained with the Atlas than to the Atlas itself; the maps are discrete, stand-alone pictorial or graphic works, whereas the Atlas is a compilation of many elements, arranged in a specific and proprietary fashion, and constituting a separate and original work.” (at p. 18) As a result, the attribution provided for the cover photo was comparable to that provided for other works in the collective work.

This would appear to be a case where the plaintiff’s expectations as to what the CC license he used for his work would achieve for him were not met. It is perhaps a cautionary tale for those who use template licenses – the simplicity and user-friendliness of the human readable version of the license does not mean that the detail in the legal code should be ignored – particularly where the licensor seeks to place specific limits on how the work might be used.

Published in Copyright Law

It is rare that a trademark law dispute becomes the subject matter of a documentary film – rarer still when it is a Canadian case that is the focus of attention. Yet some trademark disputes transcend the legal issues that give rise to them. This is so with the case that inspired Heidi Lasi’s recent documentary titled The Oasis Affair. This short film explores the dispute between Les Industries Lassonde, Inc. (a major Quebec company that produces, among other things, OASIS brand juices) and Olivia’s Oasis, a small Quebec business producing soaps and skin care products made with olive oil.

The conflict between the two companies arose from a trademark infringement lawsuit brought by Les Industries Lassonde against Olivia’s Oasis. Lassonde argued that the Olivia’s Oasis trademark for skin care products created consumer confusion with their well-known mark OASIS for fruit juice. Not only did the defendant rebut the trademark claims, it also argued that the lawsuit against it was abusive litigation under relatively new provisions of the Quebec Code of Civil Procedure. These “anti-SLAPP” provisions are intended to discourage parties with deep pockets from using the threat of litigation either to pressure small parties to comply with their demands or to face financial ruin through costly litigation. At trial, Justice Zerbisias of Quebec’s Superior Court found not only that there was no merit to the trademark infringement suit brought by Les Industries Lassonde, Inc., she also agreed with the defendants that the suit fell within the ambit of the anti-SLAPP provisions. She awarded Olivia’s Oasis $125,000 in extra-judicial costs and punitive damages.

While accepting the trademark law outcome, Les Industries Lassonde appealed the award of damages to the Quebec Court of Appeal. [Spoiler alert: stop reading here if you want to learn how it all ends from watching the video.] This Court found that Lassonde’s motives in commencing litigation were not improper. After all, they opined, a trademark that loses its distinctiveness can no longer function as a trademark; a trademark owner must therefore take the necessary steps to preserve the distinctive character of its marks. It nullified the award of damages to the defendant.

Not only does The Oasis Affair provide an account of the litigation, it tells the remarkable story of the social media outcry that followed the Court of Appeal’s decision. In a very short space of time, Les Industries Lassonde faced an unprecedented public backlash – one that ultimately led them to compensate Olivia’s Oasis for the legal fees that had left the small company teetering on the edge of failure.

Heidi Lasi’s documentary is a crisp, engaging account of this case and its aftermath. The film leaves the viewer with an appreciation of the power of social media to create a “court of public opinion”; and suggests that the Olivia’s Oasis affair heralds an important change in how trademark holders must approach the protection of their trademarks and brands.


Published in Trademarks

The Pan Am/Parapan Am Games are set to open in Toronto on July 10, 2015. As with any other major sporting event, these Games raise the possibility of ambush marketing – a form of marketing activity designed to take advantage of public interest in a high profile event.

Major event organizers (including the International Olympic Committee, FIFA, and others) see ambush marketing as a threat to their ability to obtain top dollar for lucrative sponsorship opportunities, and they have increasingly put pressure on host countries to enact legislation to prevent ambush marketing. This legislation has proven controversial – and for good reason.

If you are interested in ambush marketing and the Pan Am/Parapan Am Games, you can read my blog post on this issue on Osgoode’s IPilogue here.

Published in Ambush Marketing

In a paper that I have just published in the Fordham Urban Law Journal, I consider the evolution of intellectual property (IP) claims in relation to three specific categories of data that have been of interest to transit users: route maps, static transit data, and real-time GPS data. This data is generated by municipal transit authorities in the course of their operations. Increasingly, it has been sought as open data by developers keen to make use of this data in a very broad range of apps. It is also of interest to corporations that seek to add value to their products and services.

Route maps are a very basic form of transit data – they represent, in graphic form, the general location and ordering of transit stops within a given transit system. Static transit data is essentially schedule or timetable data. It is referred to as “static” because it is not subject to rapid change, although timetable data does change seasonally, as well as in response to growth or development in a given transit system. Real-time transit data is generated and communicated in real time. Typically it is gathered from GPS units that are installed on transit vehicles.

These three categories of data have all been the focus of IP disputes involving different actors and differing motivations. Because the categories of data also reflect an evolution of the types of available data, the technologies for accessing and using that data, and the growing complexity and value of the data, they offer an interesting window into the evolution of IP claims in this area. More specifically, they allow IP law to be considered not so much as the focus of inquiry (i.e. whether there is copyright in transit data), but rather in relation to its role within an emerging and evolving community of practice shaped by changing technology.

The claim to IP rights in something (a bus timetable, for example) is based upon an understanding that such rights may exist and are supported by statute and case law. However, in my research I was interested not just in law in this strict sense (i.e: can one have copyright in a bus timetable), but rather in law as it was experienced. What I found was that actual law was surprisingly irrelevant to many of the claims being asserted in the transit data context. Being in a position to make a claim to IP rights was in many ways more important than actually having a good claim.

Disputes over transit data have evolved along with the data. Early claims of copyright infringement were levelled by transit authorities against developers who adapted transit maps for viewing on the iPod. Similarly, copyright infringement claims were brought against app developers who used static transit data to develop timetable apps for emerging smartphone technology. Compounding the impact of these claims, notice and takedown provisions in U.S. copyright law gave putative rights holders a tool to remove apps from circulation based on copyright claims, regardless of their merits. Similar conflicts arose in relation to real-time GPS data. With real-time GPS data, another level was added – so-called patent trolls in Canada and the US pursued municipalities and app developers alike for the use of allegedly patented code useful in the communication of real-time GPS data.

In spite of a proliferation of IP claims, the municipal transit data context is one in which there is virtually no litigation. Instead, there are simply claims to rights invoked in cease and desist letters, as well as responses to those letters and public reaction to those claims. In the rare instances of formalized legal proceedings, disputes typically settle before going to court. As well, because disputes over municipal transit data tend to focus on claims to rights in data or data-based products, the claims are fundamentally both weak and contingent. They are weak because there can be no copyright in facts, and because the copyright in compilations of facts is notoriously “thin”. They are contingent because the only way to resolve the issue of whether any given compilation of facts is protected by copyright is to litigate the matter. In a context where the potential defendants cannot afford, or have no incentive, to litigate, it is the claim that matters far more than its merits.

Claims to intellectual property rights also underlie the contracts and licenses that are used to manage interactions in this area as well. They are used to arrive at ‘consensual’ solutions regarding the use of IP. In this sense, the licenses acknowledge and reinforce rights claims, creating, perhaps, a communal acquiescence to the claims. An open data licence involves a government granting a licence to use its data without need for permission or compensation; such a licence is premised upon the existence of IP rights. A party who agrees to such a licence before using the data tacitly accepts this IP claim.

In addition to the points of conflict discussed above, copyright law has been fundamental to the many open licences developed in conjunction with open transit data, and as such it has shaped other consensual relationships between actors in this field. As open data licences began to proliferate, issues around legal interoperability came to the fore, along with issues regarding the use of proprietary, as opposed to open, standards for transit data. These issues are not ones which attract litigation; for the most part they are matters of trial and error, negotiation and compromise. They reflect ongoing interaction and relationships between transit authorities, developers, private sector corporations and civil society groups. In my paper, I look at how community consensuses about law can emerge even in the absence of a specific legal text or case law. I examine how law is used by different actors to achieve certain ends, and what those ends are.

In the case of municipal transit data, the emerging and evolving open data movement began to have an impact on government practices with arguments around greater efficiency, lower cost, better citizen engagement, and so on. It drew upon the experience and rhetoric of the open source movement, as well as on the norms and practices of the software development community. These developments eventually led, in some key cases, to a shift in how (still very weak) IP rights were managed by municipalities and transit authorities. This in turn engaged new legal issues around open licenses. As open transit data evolved, so too did the number and nature of the actors with an interest in this area. IP rights become entangled not just in the transit data itself, but also in the technologies used to generate the data. IP became a matter of contention or consideration between a range of actors, both private and public sector.

My full paper, complete with references can be found here.

Published in Copyright Law
Wednesday, 18 February 2015 08:29

Intellectual Property Issues in Citizen Science

I am just back from the inaugural conference of the newly formed Citizen Science Association. If there were any doubt about the explosion of interest in citizen science, this conference, with its packed agenda and 600 registered attendees would lay it to rest.

Citizen science is a term whose definitional boundaries are constantly being expanded. It is sometimes also called public participatory scientific research, and broadly interpreted it could reach so far as to include open innovation. Like many other forms of collaborative and co-creative engagement, citizen science involves harnessing the labour or ingenuity of the crowd with a view to advancing scientific knowledge. Iconic citizen science projects range from eBird (involving the public in reporting and recording bird sightings), GalaxyZoo (engaging the public in classifying distant galaxies) and Nature’s Notebook (which asks the public to help track seasonal changes). Citizen science projects also stray into the biomedical realm and can cross commercial/non-commercial lines. PatientsLikeMe offers a forum for individuals to share information about their illnesses or medical conditions with researchers and with others with the same affliction. 23andMe provides individuals with information about their DNA (which participants contribute), and SNPedia provides individuals with resources to help them in interpreting their own DNA. But in addition to these more well-known projects, are thousands of others, on large and small scales across a range of scientific fields, and engaging different sectors of the public in a very broad range of activities and for a similarly broad spectrum of objectives.

My own interest in citizen science relates to the legal and ethical issues it raises. Not surprisingly, there are significant privacy issues that may be raised by various citizen science projects – and not just those in the biomedical sphere. There may also be interesting liability issues – what responsibility is engaged by researchers who invite volunteers to hike treacherous mountain trails to find and record data about elusive plant or animal species? Currently, my work is on intellectual property issues. Timed to coincide with the inaugural CitSci 2015 conference was the release of a paper I co-authored with Haewon Chung on intellectual property issues as between researchers and participants in citizen science. This paper was commissioned by the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars Commons Lab, and we are continuing to expand our work in this area with the support of the Wilson Center.

Our paper invites participants and researchers to think about intellectual property in the context of citizen science, in large part because IP issues are so fundamental to the ability of researchers, participants, and downstream users to ultimately access, use and/or disseminate research results. Relationships between researchers and participants are not the only ones of importance in citizen science – we will expand beyond these in our future work. But these relationships are nonetheless fundamentally important in citizen science. To the extent that intellectual property law is about both the relationship of authors to their works and about the relationship of authors and others in relation to those works, these issues should be part of the design of citizen science projects.

Our paper, which is meant primarily for an audience of citizen science participants and researchers, develops a typology of citizen science projects from an IP point of view. We group citizen science projects into 4 broad categories defined by the type of contribution expected of participants. In some cases the nature and degree of participation makes it unlikely that participants will have any IP claims in their contributions to the project; in other cases, participants are regularly invited to contribute materials in which they may hold rights. We suggest that researchers think about these issues before launching their project with a view to avoiding complications later on, when they try to publish their research, decide to make their data fully open online, or make other dissemination plans. In some cases, the level of involvement of participants in problem-solving or data manipulation may also raise issues about their contribution to an invention that the researchers eventually seek to patent.

Identifying the IP issues is a first step – addressing them is also important. There are many different ways (from assignment of right to licensing) in which the IP rights of contributors can be addressed. Some solutions may be more appropriate than others, depending upon the ultimate goals of the project. In choosing a solution, researchers and project designers should think of the big picture: what do they need to do with their research output? Are there ethical obligations to open citizen science data, or to share back with the participant community? Do they have particular commitments to funders or to their institutions? Even if research data is made open, are there reasons to place restrictions on how the data is used by downstream users? These are important issues which have both a legal and an ethical dimension. They are part of our ongoing work in this area.

Published in Copyright Law

CTV News has reported on a leaked document that suggests that the federal government will be proposing a very specific amendment to the Copyright Act as part of a future budget implementation bill. Specifically, the government will seek to create an exception to copyright infringement that will allow politicians and political parties to make use of media content in political advertisements without the need to seek permission or to pay licensing fees. Normally, the right to authorize the use of copyright protected content is one of the exclusive rights of copyright holders.

The move by the government is sandwiched between two particular events. The first is an announcement in May of this year by major media outlets that they would resist the use of their content in political advertisements. The second, of course, is the looming federal election expected to take place in the fall of 2015 (and for which the campaign already seems to be well under way).

The proposed amendment raises two broad sets of issues. The first relates to process and the second to the substance of the amendment. On the process side of things, the use of budget implementation legislation as a vehicle for ramming through legislative amendments (sometimes of enormous significance) without the normal opportunity for debate, study, and even revision is part of an ongoing degradation of the democratic process in Canada. Copyright reform has always been a lengthy and hotly contested exercise largely because copyright legislation reflects a complex balancing of interests. These interests are diverse, and they include the interests of authors/creators, owners of copyright, industry actors, disseminators of copyright materials, and the broad range of users of copyright protected works. Exceptions to the rights of owners of copyright are generally a key focus of these balancing exercises. The Copyright Act was the subject of substantial reform in 2012 (including the addition of a number of new exceptions), and is slated for another review in 2017. The addition of a new exception at this point in time smacks of self-interested expediency on the part of politicians.

As a matter of substance, it is difficult to comment directly without the actual text of the amendment. However, I offer up some general observations to highlight the complexity of the issues raised, the potential problems, and the ways in which any such amendment might benefit from greater consideration than a budget implementation bill might warrant.

It should be noted that the use of content without need for a licence is already provided for in a variety of contexts under the fair dealing exceptions in the Copyright Act. Under these exceptions, the use of a work must be for a permitted purpose (which can include news reporting, criticism or comment, parody or satire). Such use must also be considered ‘fair’ – in other words, it is not enough to simply allege a specific purpose, one must also use the work or the extract fairly. It is worth noting that the issue of the use of media content in political advertisements in Canada has never been litigated – thus we do not know whether such use might qualify, in appropriate circumstances, for one of the already existing fair dealing exceptions. A first question, therefore, is whether a new exception is needed.

Any specific exception to allow the use of media content in political advertisements would have to consider and define who would be entitled to make such use (Politicians? Candidates? Potential candidates? Political parties? Interest groups?) and what content is up for grabs (Content from mainstream media outlets? From bloggers? Twitter or other social media?). Certain existing fair dealing exceptions require that the source and author be identified when material is used, and presumably something similar should be required here. Further, one would hope that, as with the other fair dealing exceptions, there would also be the additional requirement that any use made of the content must be ‘fair’. It will be very interesting to see whether this is part of any amendment. The ‘fairness’ of any use of content in political advertisements will be a big issue: a use that misrepresents or takes content out of context would be difficult to justify as fair. But if taking things out of context is the name of the game in political ads, will we see an exception that does not impose a fairness limitation on the use of copyright owners’ content?

Any such exception would also fit within the context of the legislation, which provides for certain moral rights. These are available to human authors (and not to corporate owners) of copyright protected works. They can be asserted to protect the honour and reputation of the author, both in terms of the integrity of their work and the causes or institutions in association with which the work is used. While author-employees may waive their moral rights with respect to their employers, they do not, in so doing, necessarily waive them against the rest of the world. Thus, even with a new exception, it might be possible for journalists whose work is used in ways that affect the integrity of their work or that link them, through their work, to a cause or institution they do not support, might still have a moral rights claim. While it is reassuring to think that the exception is not a blank cheque, moral rights case law in Canada is skimpy, and it is difficult to predict what the role will be of moral rights in this context.

Of course, there is a strong public interest in the free and open exchange of ideas. It can certainly be argued that this amendment will enhance the ability to engage with media stories without the need to seek permission to do so, and that this is a good thing – even if many political advertisements are hardly a shining example of engaged political discourse. Nevertheless, to ram through such an exception to the Copyright Act in a budget implementation bill, without due democratic consideration, and in the face of some fairly serious public policy questions on both sides of the issue, makes a mockery of copyright reform. Canadians may remember that it was only in the 2012 amendments to the Copyright Act that an exception was finally included to make the home recording of televised content legal (!) and then only under a tedious list of conditions and limitations. The wheels of copyright reform move slowly and carefully indeed for ordinary Canadians; they clearly move much faster when political self-interest is engaged.


Published in Copyright Law

Yet another decision regarding official marks highlights the need for reform of this privileged category of marks protected under the Trade-marks Act. In Terrace (City) v. Urban Distilleries Inc., two concurrent owners of the same official mark -- SPIRIT BEAR -- challenged the use by the defendant company of a mark that they claimed infringed their rights in the official mark.

The City of Terrace had requested that the Registrar of Trade-marks give public notice of its adoption and use of the SPIRIT BEAR mark on January 21, 2004. Almost 3 years later, the Kitsaoo Band Council had the Registrar of Trade-marks give public notice of its own adoption and use of the identical mark. This happened because there is simply no mechanism under the Trade-marks Act to evaluate official marks on their merits, or to limit them in cases where they would cause confusion with already existing official marks (or registered trademarks). An initial dispute between the City and the Band Council over their competing marks was resolved by an agreement entered into by the two under which they agreed to share the mark and to jointly licence its use.

The defendant company, Urban Distilleries, manufactures different alcoholic beverages. In 2010 it applied to register the trademark SPIRIT BEAR VODKA, but the City and the Band Council both opposed the application. Urban Distilleries abandoned the application, apparently because it lacked the funds to defend the opposition. Since January 2011, it has sold vodka and gin using the unregistered trademark SPIRIT BEAR.

In August 2013, the City and the Band sought an injunction against Urban Distilleries’ use of the SPIRIT BEAR mark. As part of the remedy they sought an order that Urban Distilleries destroy existing inventory and surrender its profits from the sale of products under the offending mark. Urban Distilleries responded by challenging the validity of the official marks. In particular, it argued that the marks had not been adopted and used prior to official notice being given, and it argued that neither the City nor the Band Council were public authorities within the meaning of subparagraph 9(1)(n)(iii) of the Trade-marks Act. They also argued that their use of the marks was not likely to mislead the public, and therefore was not infringing.

Justice Martineau disposed of the case by considering only the issue of adoption and use of the official marks. He noted that the law requires that such marks be adopted and used prior to the Registrar’s giving of public notice. There is a very low threshold for a finding of adoption. The threshold for “use” is similarly not high: “all that is required for use is that the public authority demonstrate that the official mark was made available for public display prior to publication.” (at para 11) However, he found that in this case, neither the City nor the Band Council could be found to have used the mark SPIRIT BEAR prior to public notice having been given.

In the case of the City, there was evidence that the words “spirit bear” were used on the City’s website. However, he noted that nothing on the site mentioned that these words were a mark associated with goods or services. Internal correspondence from that time regarding the use of “SPIRIT BEAR” was not considered to be sufficiently public. Further, the court found that it was not clear that the words were being used in this correspondence as a mark.

In the case of the Band Council, the court found there was no evidence of public use of the mark by the Band Council as a trademark. There was some evidence of a tourism company that used SPIRIT BEAR in one of its publications and in relation to several tours. However, as there was no evidence of any connection between the tourism company and the Band Council, the court found that this did not support an argument that the mark had been adopted and used by the Band Council at the time that public notice was given. Further, the court was not convinced that the words were used on their own as a trademark (as opposed to as a part of longer mark such as SPIRIT BEAR TOUR).

Because there was no evidence of adoption and use of the mark by either the City or the Band Council prior to public notice being given, the court found that both of the marks were unenforceable, and the suit for infringement must necessarily fail. Justice Martineau observed that the City and the Band Council, armed with appropriate evidence, could ask once again for new public notice to be given of the mark. However, any rights flowing from such a request would only be from the time that the public notice was given. Under the Trade-marks Act, marks that are identical to or confusing with official marks may continue to be used after official notice is given, so long as their use predates the public notice. This is the case for Urban Distilleries – it would be able to continue using its unregistered SPIRIT BEAR marks. However, if a new official mark were to be successfully sought by the City and/or the Band Council, this would freeze Urban Distilleries’ rights to what they were at the time of public notice. This means that Urban Distilleries would not be able to expand its line of offerings under the mark, nor would it be entitled to register its unregistered mark.

The co-existence of identical official marks, the improper granting of public notice, and the arbitrary effects on, in this case, a small business owner, all serve as indicators that the official marks regime is very much in need of reform. (For an earlier posting about another problematic official marks case see here). Private Members’ Bill C-611 is currently before Parliament (the bill is discussed here) and it offers concrete proposals for reform in this area. Let us hope it gets due consideration.

Published in Trademarks

After years of neglect, trademark law reform is now all the rage in Canada. Presently, two government bills propose major amendments to the Trade-marks Act – those in the Budget Implementation Act have proven highly controversial; those in Bill C-8 would introduce major changes, although these are less controversial. Yesterday, Liberal MP Geoff Regan introduced a private member’s bill, Bill C-611, which has as its goal the overhaul of official marks under the Trade-marks Act.

Interestingly enough, neither of the government’s trademark law reform bills tackles official marks, notwithstanding that the Report of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology in March 2013 on the Intellectual Property Regime in Canada recommended that something be done about these marks. Specifically, the report stated:

The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada introduce legislation which amends parts of the Trade-marks Act dealing with official marks to restrict the scope of official marks to important national government symbols and to narrow the definition of public authorities to avoid stifling innovation and distorting markets.

Official marks are a rather unique Canadian creation. Essentially, they allow “public authorities” to bypass the normal procedures (including all of the checks and balances present in the Act) for obtaining a trademark. Instead of applying for a trademark – which is then examined and opened for opposition to insure that it is indeed registrable and does not trample on the trademark rights of others – a “public authority” need only ask the Registrar of Trademarks to give public notice of its adoption and use of an official mark. There are no limits to official marks – they can be identical to or confusing with existing marks, and they can be generic, descriptive or deceptively misdescriptive. Further, unlike regular trademarks which can expire if the registration is not renewed, or which can be lost for non-use, official marks are potentially perpetual.

One of the reasons for the creation of the category of official marks, was perhaps, to save governments from the costs of registering and maintaining trademarks in relation to their various programs and services. While this might be an acceptable rationale for government programs and services in the strict sense, it makes less sense for government entities engaged in the marketing of alcohol and gaming to be exempt from the traditional rules (and checks and balances) of the trademark system.

In addition, until the Federal Court began its attempts to reign in official marks in the early 2000’s, the concept of a “public authority” was rather vague, leading to a flood of bogus official marks. And once public notice is declared, there is no mechanism in place to permit an easy removal of the mark – judicial review must be sought in the Federal Court of the Registrar’s decision to give public notice. This places a costly onus on businesses or other entities that run up against rogue official marks. For example, the Canadian Jewish Congress was obliged to go to court to reverse the decision to allow a U.S.-based evangelical church with a mission to convert Jews to Christianity to hold an official mark for the menorah. In 2005 I wrote an article about a battle between a private company, the Bluenose Heritage Preservation Trust Society and a Nova Scotia business over licensing fees that the Society sought to charge for the use of the name and image of the iconic Nova Scotia schooner. The Society had obtained official marks related to the Bluenose, notwithstanding that it was difficult to see how it qualified as a public authority. The litigation came to an end when the Province of Nova Scotia intervened. The Province subsequently sought to have notice given for its own Bluenose official marks. It is an illustration of the multiple defects of this regime that if you search the trademarks register you will find listed identical official marks held both by the Society and by the Province of Nova Scotia.

It would be easy to go on and on about the problems of official marks and about the problematic exercise of rights in such marks – there are many examples that can be drawn upon. (Do you remember a not too distant news story about a young Nova Scotia musician pursued by the Mint because his album cover featured Canadian pennies (which are official marks of the Mint)? Do you remember Canadian pennies?) But the point here is to discuss the new bill introduced to reform the official marks regime. I should state from the outset that I was consulted on the drafting of this Bill (along with my colleague Andrea Slane). The goal of the exercise was to reform the official marks regime. I note that a good argument could still be made for its wholesale abolition.

The main goal of the proposed reforms is to address some of the regimes key deficiencies. First, the scope of official marks is limited – both in terms of who can get them, and for what purposes. “Public authority” is defined – even more narrowly than in the definition adopted by the Federal Court of Appeal to limit access to official marks. The objective is to limit official marks only to those public authorities with the strongest links to government. Official marks are also available only to public authorities for their names, emblems or logos, or in relation to their programs or services. Access to official marks by universities is limited only to Canadian universities (under the current law, universities in any country of the world can (and do) obtain official marks.)

A second feature of the bill is that it provides for a process by which objection can be made to the public notice given by the Registrar of the official mark. This is meant to be a more expeditious and cheaper procedure than seeking judicial review of a mark. It also introduces other grounds for objection to the official mark, including that it might have a serious adverse effect on the owner of an existing trademark, that it is a generic term, or that it is otherwise not in the public interest.

A third feature sets a term of 10 years of protection for official marks. This protection can be renewed by the public authority – but if it is not, then the mark is no longer protected.

The bill aims to do something that has long needed to be done – it seeks to curtail access to official marks, to place some limits on the marks themselves so as to lessen their impact on other trademark holders, and to provide a mechanism whereby official mark deadwood can be removed. These are certainly important objectives. It is to be hoped that the bill will at least serve to put an option on the table for public debate, with a view to achieving much-needed reform in this area.


Published in Trademarks

Ontario’s Divisional Court has decided to certify a class proceeding in Keatley Surveying Ltd. v. Teranet Inc., a case that raises issues about the copyright status of plans of survey that are prepared by surveyors and deposited in provincial land registries. (The decision of the court below refusing to certify the class action was discussed here.) The defendant, Teranet Inc. is the company that runs the province’s electronic land titles system. The class plaintiff argues that individual land surveyors hold copyright in their surveys, and it argues that the defendant Teranet violates those copyrights when it makes electronic copies of those surveys available to others for a fee. The defendant raises several arguments in its defence. These include an argument that copyright in the surveys belongs to the Crown because of the statutory requirement for such surveys. Alternatively, it is argued that copyright is assigned to the Crown through the act of registering the document. Another possibility is that the statutory scheme that governs the registration of a plan of survey creates a process whereby the surveyor consents to the copying of the submitted plan for public purposes. Finally, there is the argument that the electronic land registry system operated by Teranet confers a public benefit such that it would be against public policy to permit surveyors to enforce their copyrights. As noted in a recent posting, these questions regarding the copyright status of documents in public registries are both interesting and important, and arise in other contexts as well.

The Divisional Court was prepared to certify the class proceeding because certain deficiencies identified by the judge at first instance had been corrected in the plaintiff’s revised class certification request. For example, while initially the class had been defined in such a way that membership in the class depended on how the substantive issues would be decided, the revised definition of the class simply includes all land surveyors in Ontario who are authors of a plan of survey found in the electronic database, or who might hold copyright in such a plan as a result of their status as employer of a surveyor, or as an assignee of either the surveyor or his/her employer. The Court of Appeal also found that the other requirements for certification of a class were met.

The Court of Appeal’s decision paves the way for this law suit to proceed – though it remains far from certain that any of the underlying copyright issues will ever ultimately be decided by a court. Nevertheless, should this dispute make its way to court, it may well provide important guidance regarding copyright in documents of all kinds that are filed in public registries for statutory purposes.

Published in Copyright Law
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Canadian Trademark Law

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