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Monday, 18 November 2013 11:02
The Supreme Court of Canada has struck down Alberta’s Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA), on the grounds that it violates the guarantee of freedom of expression in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom. The invalidation of the legislation has been suspended for 12 months to give the Alberta government time to amend the legislation so as to bring it into compliance with the Charter.
The conflict between privacy rights and the freedom of expression in Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta v. United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 401 arose after an adjudicator under PIPA ruled that the Union’s practice of taking photographs and videotapes of people crossing its picket line during a labour dispute – and of using some of the footage on its website – contravened the data protection statute. Judges at the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench and the Alberta Court of Appeal had found that to the extent that PIPA restrained the ability of the Union to collect, use and disclose personal information in relation to a labour dispute it violated the Union’s freedom of expression. Although the statute contains a series of exceptions that cover a range of circumstances, none of these exceptions were available to the Union. Some of these exceptions were specifically crafted to balance privacy rights with the freedom of expression, but the exceptions for material collected, used or disclosed “for journalistic purposes and for no other purpose” or “for artistic or literary purposes and for no other purpose” were found not to apply to the Union’s activities. As a result, the limitation on the freedom of expression was not mitigated, and the legislation was found to contravene the Charter.
In substance, the Supreme Court of Canada was of much the same view as the courts below. Emphasizing the importance of freedom of expression in the labour relations context, Justices Abella and Cromwell, for a unanimous court, found that the private sector data protection statute did not properly balance this freedom with privacy rights.
In reaching their decision, Justices Abella and Cromwell emphasized the quasi-constitutional nature of data protection legislation “because of the fundamental role privacy plays in the preservation of a free and democratic society.” (at para 19) The Court also emphasized that control over one’s personal information was of central importance to the human values of autonomy, dignity and privacy. While the court has made statements of this nature before, it is important to hear them used in relation to private sector data protection legislation.
However, the Court criticized PIPA for limiting the collection, use and disclosure of personal information, other than with consent, “without regard for the nature of the personal information, the purpose for which it is collected, used or disclosed, and the situational context for that information.” (para 25). While this may be true in the particular factual context of this case (in other words, there is no exception tailored to the labour relations context) it is not true generally, as PIPA does indeed include a raft of exceptions to the consent principle that are tailored to a wide range of contexts, including investigations, audits, archival purposes, and so on. There are also the above-noted exceptions for journalistic, artistic or literary purposes, and further exceptions for information collected for purely private or domestic purposes. The flaw, it would seem, is that PIPA does not contain an exception crafted to deal with the labour relations context. This is supported by the Court’s statement that “the Act does not include any mechanisms by which a union’s constitutional right to freedom of expression may be balanced with the interests protected by the legislation.” (at para 25) Later in the decision the Court states that “[t]o the extent that PIPA restricted the Union’s collection, use and disclosure of personal information for legitimate labour relations purposes, the Act violates s. 2(b) of the Charter and cannot be justified under s. 1.” (at para 38) It would appear, then, that the constitutional violation is narrowly cast; a fairly straightforward way for the legislature to respond to the Court’s decision would be to craft an exception specifically for the labour relations context.
It is worth noting that the Court also specifies that PIPA is “considerably broader” in scope than the federal private data protection statute, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). This is because PIPEDA applies only to the collection, use or disclosure of personal information in the course of commercial activity. Thus it would not have applied in the circumstances of this case. PIPA, by contrast, applies to organizations engaged in a much broader range of activities; its application specifically extends to trade unions. The distinction is important: in the unlikely event that the Alberta government does not act to save its legislation, PIPEDA would fill the gap left by PIPA’s invalidation, and would apply to private sector data collection, use and disclosure in the course of commercial activity in Alberta. The distinction also suggests that PIPEDA itself is not at risk of being found unconstitutional on these grounds, and that Parliament need not act to save it from such peril. This is just as well, since Parliament’s inability or unwillingness to reform PIPEDA is by now well-established.
It is noteworthy that the Court states that “[i]t goes without saying that by appearing in public, an individual does not automatically forfeit his or her interest in retaining control over the personal information which is thereby exposed.” (at para 27). It is not to be assumed that this goes without saying. For example, in the Leon’s Furniture decision from the Alberta Court of Appeal, for which leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada was refused, the majority of the Court of Appeal had appeared to find a correlation between private and personal information, suggesting that information in public view was somehow exempt from the reach of data protection legislation. The affirmation by the Supreme Court of Canada that information in public can still be personal information is more important than the Court lets on.
The decision in this case raises issues for British Columbia’s Personal Information Protection Act, which, like its Alberta counterpart, applies to trade unions. It will also have implications for the newly enacted, though not yet in force, Personal Information Protection and Identity Theft Prevention Act in Manitoba. This statute, which has other issues, also extends in its application to unions. The BC and Manitoba legislatures may thus also need to turn their attention to crafting an exception relating to the application of the statute to the labour relations context.
Monday, 11 November 2013 11:08
A recent decision of the Federal Court of Canada may demonstrate a new willingness to give greater bite to the rather limited recourses available under federal data protection legislation for privacy breaches.
A chronic problem with private sector data protection law in Canada has been the rather impoverished remedial arsenal available to address privacy breaches. In those contexts where the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) applies, for example, the Federal Privacy Commissioner plays the role of an ombud. She is able to investigate complaints and to make recommendations, but has no order-making powers. She has recommended that PIPEDA be amended not only to give her such powers, but also to enable her to impose fines on organizations in cases of egregious privacy breaches. Parliament, however, has shown little interest in amending PIPEDA to address these and other concerns.
Absent any real enforcement powers in the hands of the Privacy Commissioner, individuals who have filed complaints under PIPEDA receive a report on the investigation of their complaint, complete with non-binding recommendations. Should they wish to see these recommendations enforced by court order, or should they wish to receive compensation for any damage they have suffered, they must take the matter to Federal Court. To date, relatively few have chosen this option, all have been unrepresented, and only a handful have been successful in obtaining damage awards. Where damages have been awarded, the amounts have been relatively small.
This is why the recent decision in Chitraker v. Bell TV is interesting. In this case, the applicant sought damages for breaches of Bell TV’s legal obligations under PIPEDA. Chitraker had ordered satellite TV service from Bell, and had signed an electronic Proof of Delivery Device when the service was installed in his home. Bell TV then lifted the signature from this device, without Chitraker’s knowledge, and affixed his signature to a contract. Chitraker had not been given a copy of this contract. Among other things, the contract provided that the customer consents to Bell TV performing a credit check. Relying on this clause, Bell accessed Chitraker’s credit history without his actual knowledge or consent. When he later learned of this, Chitraker contacted Bell to begin what turned out to be a long and fruitless customer service runaround. The most he received from Bell was an apology left in his voicemail. Chitraker eventually filed a Complaint with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC). The complaint was investigated, ruled well-founded, and recommendations were made to allow Bell to bring itself into compliance with the law. Chitraker then took the matter to the Federal Court, seeking compensatory and aggravated damages for the breach of his privacy rights, and for Bell TV’s “malicious and high-handed conduct” (at para 1).
As is typical in these cases, Chitraker represented himself before the Federal Court. Less typical was Bell TV’s failure to respond to the applicaton. Justice Phelan noted that this “failure to appear in this Court is consistent with its disregard of Chitraker’s privacy rights.”(at para 18). He also noted that without any submissions from Bell it was impossible to know whether the company had implemented any of the OPC’s recommendations.
Justice Phelan was critical of Bell’s failure to compensate Chitraker for what he considered to be a significant breach of his privacy rights, and one that might have had actual adverse consequences for him. He noted that Bell took no steps “to compensate for breach of Chitraker’s privacy rights” (para 22). This wording is interesting since there is nothing in the Act which speaks of an obligation to “compensate”. For the most part, PIPEDA is currently oriented towards correcting improper business practices. Certainly in this case, the court was critical of Bell’s apparent lack of interest in doing even this much; nevertheless, the language used may signal a greater openness to actual compensation for harm suffered. In spite of the lack of evidence of any direct loss suffered by Chitraker, Justice Phalen was prepared to award damages, noting that “there is no reason to require that the violation be egregious before damages will be awarded.” (para 24) This is a most noteworthy departure from earlier case law. For example, in Randall v. Nubody’s Fitness Centres, Justice Mosely of the same court had ruled that a damage award “should not be made lightly and that such an award should only be made in the most egregious situations”. This point was also cited by the Federal Court in another decision, Nammo v. TransUnion of Canada Inc. In Nammo, the first case in which a damages award was made under s. 16 of PIPEDA, the court had awarded $5,000 for what the court clearly felt qualified as an “egregious” situation.
In Chitraker, Justice Phelan emphasized the importance of privacy rights “in an era where information on an individual is so readily available even without consent.” (at para 25) He also took into account the nature of the respondent, noting that “Bell is a large company for whom a small damages award would have little material impact.” In a notable departure from the rather stingy approach of the court in Nammo, Justice Phelan awarded Chitraker $10,000 in damages, with an additional $10,000 in exemplary damages and a further $1,000 in costs. Although the elevated damage award in this case no doubt reflects the particular circumstances, including Bell’s apparent disinterest in addressing the privacy concerns, it does mark an important departure from the Federal Court’s previous approach to damages under PIPEDA.
Tuesday, 05 November 2013 16:05
The Citizen Call to Action is part of a drive to engage citizens in the goals of the open data movement, notably in promoting transparent and accountable government through free access to a broad range of government data in reusable formats.
The Declaration around which the Call to Action is based calls for governments to take a number of steps considered crucial to fostering open data. The first is to make government data open by default. In other words, unless there is some reason to limit access to data, it should be made freely available, in reusable formats. The Declaration also calls on governments to engage users of data in the process of designing and implementing open data. Engagement can include involving users in identifying priority data sets and in designing initiatives meant to promote open data.
Implicit in the notion of open data is that the data be free: free of restrictions on reuse, free from restrictive or proprietary formats and free from cost. This is a broad concept of “free” data, and it is one that will require the development of common standards and formats within government, as well as co-operation and collaboration between different levels of government to ensure that data is as useful as possible once it is made available. The Declaration encourages governments to invest in capacity building both within government to ensure their own capability to generate and make available high quality, reusable data, but also within user communities. The Declaration also calls for steps to be taken to improve the quality of government data.
Finally the Declaration calls for accountability to be the core value of Open Data, requiring governments to release data that is crucial to keeping government accountable rather than to focus on data sets which are considered nonthreatening to vested political interests. The Declaration also calls for legal and political reforms to further the goals of transparency in government.
Wednesday, 30 October 2013 14:26
The new Canada-Europe Trade Agreement (CETA) is poised to expand the protection available to European geographical indications in Canada. Currently, under the Trade-marks Act, protection is available only to a limited number of geographical indications used in relation to various wines and spirits. CETA will expand not only the number of protected geographical indications; it will also enlarge the categories of protected indications to cover a broad range of agricultural products such as cheese, meat, olives, and vinegars.
A geographical indication (GI) is, in essence, a word or combination of words that indicates the geographical point of origin of a particular product in circumstances where that geographical origin gives the product distinct qualities or characteristics. These characteristics may be due to features that are particular to that region (a certain soil type or climate, for example) in combination with social factors (a particular tradition of production developed through a long history). Europe, of course, with its many long-standing local traditions and customs relating to food and wine, is the source of many classic and sought after products that North American producers have been happy to imitate and to sell using the same name to identify the type of product.
Because the text of CETA has not been made public, it is possible only to rely upon the short snippets of information that have been provided to the public regarding the scope of this agreement. It is not clear, therefore, whether the provisions regarding geographical indications will have a prospective effect only (permitting existing producers of products labelled as, for example, FETA or ASIAGO, to continue with their usage of these terms), or whether it will apply to all producers. It may be that it will not apply to those who have acquired actual trademark rights in a particular word or combination of words, but that it will apply to those who have merely used the geographic descriptors in labelling their products. Some reports indicate that descriptors will still be permitted with modifiers. Thus, instead of referring to one’s product as ‘Feta cheese’, it might be necessary to refer to it as Feta-type cheese, or Feta-style. While the details will obviously determine the full impact of CETA, it is without doubt that this agreement will affect Canadian producers, who have already expressed concerns over how the increased protection of geographical indications will impact the marketing of their products.
Relative to Europe, Canada is largely new to the development of long-standing traditions of regional agricultural production of distinctive products. Where this has occurred, the geographical designations for these products may be protected using certification marks. Certification marks are trademarks that can be applied to categories of products or services that are distinctive by virtue of the character or quality of the product, the methods of production, the production by a certain category of people, or by geographic place of origin. The owner of a certification mark is not a producer, but is rather an organization that is responsible for licensing the use of the mark by those who meet the criteria established as part of the registration of the mark. Canada’s First Nations, which have many distinctive traditions that are tied to territory, not simply around food but also around textiles and artisanal works, have begun to explore the use of certification marks to identify the authenticity of their products in the face of multiple imitators (consider the registered certification mark for COWICHAN in relation to clothing). Nevertheless, while certification marks offer some protection, they are different from GIs in important ways. In the first place, once protected, a GI becomes a prohibited mark: a GI, or a mark closely resembling it, cannot be adopted, used or registered as a trademark by anyone not entitled to its use. Further, this protection is at the state level: the registrar of trademarks maintains a list of protected GIs, and these GIs are extended comparable protection in other countries through the vehicle of trade agreements. By contrast, an organization that applies for a certification mark must comply with the rules regarding the registration and maintenance of trademark rights. The protection of the mark is generally only against the adoption by another of a mark that would cause confusion with the certification mark. Finally, a certification mark will only be protected in those countries in which the organization has itself sought to register the mark; in attempting to do so, the organization may run up against pre-existing confusingly similar marks in another country, and may find itself without the protection it seeks. It is clear that the potential for the use of protected geographical indications on behalf of Canadian producers remains underdeveloped in Canada. The expanded protection of geographical indications in CETA is, by all accounts, a one-way street.
The CETA will include a list of protected geographical indications as negotiated by the parties. This list is expected to include GIs such as Grana Padano, Roquefort, Feta, Asiago, and Prosciutto di Parma (and many more). It is reported that there will also be a mechanism that will permit other GIs to be added to the list on an ongoing basis.
Friday, 18 October 2013 08:52
The Manitoba government has recently enacted the Personal Information Protection and Identity Theft Protection Act (PIPITPA), which has yet to come into force. This statute is private sector data protection legislation which will is presumably intended to apply in place of the federal Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) to private sector activity within provincial jurisdiction. In order to effectively substitute for the application of PIPEDA, the PIPITPA would need to be declared by the federal Governor-in-Council to be substantially similar to PIPEDA. If Manitoba were to be successful, it would join the ranks of Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec as a province with legislation that is substantially similar to PIPEDA. However, as I will explain below, this may be a difficult case to make.
In terms of the substantive norms that guide the collection, use or disclosure of personal information, the Manitoba legislation draws heavily upon Alberta’s Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA). Indeed, many of the provisions of PIPITPA are taken word for word from the Alberta statute. There are, however, some differences. Unlike PIPA, PIPITPA does not create distinct obligations to notify individuals when they outsource the processing or storage of their personal information to a company in another country (see art. 6(2) of PIPA). Neither does PIPITPA require notification of individuals when an organization uses an offshore service provider to collect personal information, or where it transfers personal information to an offshore company (PIPA s. 13.1). The obligations in PIPITPA regarding personal employee information are also slightly different from those in PIPA; they seem to be somewhat more permissive (although such protections are notably absent under PIPEDA). Perhaps one of the most significant substantive differences relates to the date breach notification requirements. Alberta’s PIPA requires the Commissioner to be notified by an organization where there has been unauthorized access to or disclosure of personal information. The Commissioner may then require the organization to notify affected individuals where “there is a real risk of significant harm as a result of the loss or unauthorized access.” Under Manitoba’s new legislation, an organization must “as soon as is reasonably practicable”, notify any individual if their personal information that has been in the custody or control of the organization “is stolen, lost or accessed in an unauthorized manner.” The organization is not required to make such a notification if it is “satisfied that it is not reasonably possible for the personal information to be used unlawfully.” (art. 34) The difference is important: under Alberta’s statute, the Commissioner, at arm’s length, makes the call as to whether notification is required; under the Manitoba legislation it is the organization, facing embarrassment or even possible legal action, that gets to decide whether individuals should be told of the mishandling of their personal information.
The most significant difference between the Manitoba legislation and both PIPEDA and its substantially similar counterparts relates to oversight and enforcement. The Manitoba Ombudsman is given extremely limited oversight powers under the legislation, and there is no mechanism through which the public can make complaints regarding the handling of their personal information by private sector organizations. Instead, the Manitoba legislation offers only judicial recourse. For example, individuals are given a right of action in a court of competent jurisdiction where an organization has failed to take proper care of information under its control, or for failure in its duty to notify of a significant security breach in respect of personal information. The Act also provides that it is an offence to willfully collect, use or disclose personal information in contravention of the Act, to wilfully attempt to access personal information, or to dispose, alter, falsify, conceal or disclose personal information in order to evade a request for access. These offences require the acts to be willful, setting a rather high threshold. The legislation provides a defense where the organization is considered to have “acted reasonably in the circumstances.” The mens rea requirement will likely make prosecutions rare; in any event, they will be beyond the power of individuals to initiate and pursue on their own. Without a complaint mechanism and without the power to control prosecutions of offenses, the individual is left with no other option but to take an organization to court. As we have seen with court actions under PIPEDA, the damage awards are typically too low to make this kind of recourse practicable. An individual who is willing to take the time and effort to represent themselves in small claims court might walk away with a few dollars, but for many types of mishandling of personal information a complaints mechanism would be far more effective in guiding an organization to modify its practices while at the same time reassuring individuals that something has been done to rectify the problem.
The lack of effective oversight and the lack of an accessible complaints mechanism, in my view make this legislation very far from being substantially similar to PIPEDA. Basic normative requirements are essentially meaningless without appropriate oversight. It is worth noting that even with PIPEDA’s much more significant oversight provisions, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada has grown frustrated with the limits of her own lack of order-making powers under PIPEDA, and with the lack of additional powers to impose fines or penalties in appropriate circumstances. The Manitoba legislation is a long way from what should be required of a province that wishes to remove its private sector organizations out from under the reach of PIPEDA.
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.
Wednesday, 25 September 2013 13:02
Last week, the CBC reported that an amateur football club in Nepean, Ontario, reached the decision to change its name following a spate of negative publicity that enveloped it after it was revealed that a human rights complaint had been filed in relation to its name. The Nepean Redskins had used this name for their club since 1981. The organization's jerseys, helmets and website also feature the same Indian-head logo as the U.S.-based Washington Redskins NFL team.
In the United States, the Washington Redskins have long faced challenges to the validity of their registered trademarks under section 2(a) of the Lanham Act. This provision bars from registration any mark that “consists of or comprises immoral, deceptive, or scandalous matter; or matter which may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute.” Although these challenges have not been successful to date for mainly procedural reasons, they are ongoing. In fact, arguments in a new challenge were heard in March of 2013, and the decision in this matter is pending. There are signs that the trademark may well be in real jeopardy this time, and even the NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has suggested that it might be time for a change. Of course, even if the trademark registration is canceled, the team could continue to use the mark as an unregistered trademark – one with a substantial amount of accumulated reputation and goodwill. Nevertheless, the loss of the protection available to registered trademarks will make the team’s enforcement of its rights much more difficult.
It may come as a surprise to many Canadians that the Washington Redskins also hold registered trademarks in Canada since 1980. The marks are registered for use in association with televised games, as well as for a range of other branded merchandise such as jerseys, hats, sports equipment and a range of other items.
Like the U.S. legislation, Canada’s Trade-marks Act bars the registration of trademarks that are considered “scandalous, obscene or immoral”. Marks that are not registrable at the date of registration can also be invalidated after the fact on the application of the Registrar or “any person interested”. No attempt has ever been made to challenge the validity of the registration of the Redskins mark in Canada; indeed there is scarcely any case law in Canada that touches on the interpretation of the “scandalous, obscene or immoral” bar to registration. It is not clear, for example, whether it would be interpreted to have the same breadth as the U.S. provision which also bars the registration of marks that are disparaging. Nevertheless, the potential impending demise of the Redskins’ trademarks in the U.S. raises interesting questions as to the fate of the Canadian registrations. If, after all, the mark is considered too offensive to be registered in the United States, would there any reason to consider it less offensive in Canada?
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, 03 September 2013 10:40
The federal government is calling for comments on its Year One progress on Canada’s Action Plan for Open Government. The government is seeking feedback on two main questions, namely: how it has done in meeting its commitments under the Action Plan; which commitments still require the most attention. They are also seeking more general feedback in the form of comments or suggestions regarding its Open Government initiative. The consultation opened on August 19, 2013 and will close on September 9, 2013.