Teresa Scassa - Blog

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Thursday, 14 March 2013 14:33

The Failure of Privacy Law

Written by Teresa Scassa
Recently, the decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal in Jones v. Tsige was celebrated by privacy advocates for recognizing a new privacy tort in Ontario. The plaintiff/appellant Jones received an award of $10,000 in damages for harm suffered as a result of the defendant’s unauthorized access to her bank records over a period of time. An even more recent dispute between Jones and her lawyer has highlighted a chronic problem with privacy law in…

The legendary Bluenose schooner has become a Nova Scotian – if not a national – icon. It has been featured on our dime since 1937. While the ship is invoked in stories and songs (the original Bluenose sank in 1946), it also lives on in a physical replica, the Bluenose II, which tours Nova Scotia and abroad, and which is a popular attraction. The ship took its name from the term “bluenose” which has been used as a nickname for Nova Scotians since at least the 1700s.

 

Being an icon is not an easy thing – even for a ship. In fact, the Bluenose has been the subject of a number of intellectual property skirmishes in recent years, and is set to be the focus of yet another round of litigation. The first round of intellectual property battles took place in the early 2000’s, when the company retained by the Nova Scotia government to maintain and manage the Bluenose II (which belongs to the province) received official marks protection for the name Bluenose II and a number of related marks. It then sought to enforce its newfound trademark rights against a number of local businesses that used the word Bluenose in their name. An account of this litigation and its outcome can be found in an article I published in the Dalhousie Law Journal in 2004.

 

Now, in 2013, the heirs to the naval architect who designed the original Bluenose schooner have filed an application in the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, arguing that the Province of Nova Scotia and those it hired to restore the Bluenose II have violated the copyright in the naval architectural plans for the ship. It is also argued that the moral rights of the naval architect, the late William James Roué have also been violated. Because Mr. Roué passed away in 1970, the copyright in the plans would only expire in 2020.

 

To understand this argument, it is first necessary to know that the naval architectural plans would constitute drawings, which in turn are protected as artistic works under the Copyright Act. Case law establishes that the copyright in drawings can be infringed when someone builds a three-dimensional object from what is represented in the drawing. Thus the building of a house may infringe the copyright in a set of architectural plans, and the building of a ship, presumably, can also infringe the copyright in its naval architectural drawings. Although the province claims that the work done on the Bluenose II (which was by all accounts in a sad state) was a restoration of an existing, authorized reproduction. The heirs of William J. Roué, by contrast, argue that the existing ship was reverse-engineered; new drawings were done, and an infringing copy of the ship was built. This is the heart of the copyright claim, and it raises interesting issues about the boundary lines between restoration and replication.

 

Moral rights are intended to protect the honour and integrity of the creator of a work and to ensure that he or she is recognized as the author of the work. The heirs appear to argue that the work done on the Bluenose II amounted to the distortion or mutilation of the copyright protected work to the prejudice of the honour or reputation of William J. Roué. In part, it seems that the heirs are arguing that they should have been involved or consulted in the process in order to protect moral rights, arguing that the prejudice to honour or reputation flows from the fact that “the Applicants are unable to ensure that construction of the Vessel will be completed properly and that the vessel called “Bluenose II” will remain an authentic tribute to the original Bluenose and Bluenose II and the creator of the legacy.” (Second Amended Notice of Application, Schedule A, para 37.) The outcome of this claim may depend upon whether the project is considered a restoration or a reconstruction. The Copyright Act provides that “steps taken in good faith to restore or preserve a work” are not, of themselves, a distortion, mutilation or modification of the work (s. 28.2(3)(b)).

 

There is, of course, money involved in this dispute. The government did not seek permission to use the copyright protected drawings to produce a new replica of the Bluenose, nor did it pay royalties to the copyright holders – their position is that they are simply restoring the ship that they own. The heirs, by contrast argue that they have “suffered a lost opportunity. . . to financially benefit from exploitation of the Copyright Work”. (Second Amended Notice of Application, Schedule A, para 44).

 

For its part, the Government of Nova Scotia has challenged the existence of copyright in the naval architectural plans, and whether such copyright actually passed to the applicant heirs. They are also arguing that the “restoration” of the Bluenose II “is not a substantial reproduction of the Bluenose; it is an independent design” (para 17 of the decision on the motion). Finally, the government seems to be arguing that any copyright in the naval architectural drawings does not include rights in the name “Bluenose”. Presumably this means that they assert the right to give this name to any ship they build.

 

It will be interesting to see how this litigation unfolds. The conflict here perhaps reflects what happens when someone’s intellectual property underlies what has become a public icon, and when the owner of a physical and functional object – like a ship – feels that they should not be constrained by intellectual property laws in their dealings with that object.


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