Teresa Scassa - Blog

Wednesday, 20 June 2007 13:17

Table Scraps or a Full Course Meal? The Public Domain in Canadian Copyright Law

Written by  Teresa Scassa
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“Table Scraps or a Full Course Meal? The Public Domain in Canadian Copyright Law”, in Intellectual Property at the Edge: New Approaches to IP in a Transsystemic World, Proceedings of the Meredith Lectures, Editions Yvon Blais, 2007, pp. 347-376.

While the concept of the public domain has long been an important part of U.S. copyright case law and commentary, its role has been relatively minor in Canada. References to the public domain in Canadian cases have, until very recently, been rare, made largely in passing, and have done little to define or explore the concept. The Canadian public domain is, in some significant respects, much smaller than that in the United States, and Canadian copyright legislation and case law has not traditionally favoured a robust public domain engineered through deliberate policy choices. Rather, the public domain has been constituted by leftovers: things that cannot be monopolized by virtue of fundamental axioms of copyright law, works in which copyrights have expired, and things that do not fit within the definitions of works.   The public domain as it is currently constituted is also a fragile thing: vigilance is required in interpretations of key copyright concepts so as not to further shrink its scope. The historical role of the public domain stands in interesting contrast to its sudden assumed importance in recent Supreme Court of Canada decisions.


In this paper, I explore the scope of the public domain in Canada using illustrations drawn from “real life”. The illustrations chosen, which relate to Crown copyright and to the reproduction of works in which copyright has expired, offer insights into the scope and fragility of the public domain in Canada. Crown copyright is an example of the narrow horizons of the Canadian public domain as set out in the legislation. The issue of the reproduction of works in which copyright has expired allows for an exploration of the scope of the public domain as a matter of statutory interpretation – more specifically, the interpretation of the threshold standard of originality. This is an area of enormous significance as it is through interpretation that courts wield enormous power in constituting the public domain.

Last modified on Thursday, 18 August 2011 11:13
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