Teresa Scassa - Blog

Copyright Law

Copyright Law (34)

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.


In 2007 Stephanie Lenz filed a law suit against Universal Music, alleging that it had violated the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) by sending her a takedown notice that misrepresented the extent of their rights. Lenz had made a 29 second videotape of her two small children dancing to a Prince song (Let’s Go Crazy) on the radio and had posted the video on YouTube. YouTube contacted her to indicate that it had received a takedown notice for this video. The notice alleged that it infringed upon Universal’s rights in the song. YouTube removed the video from its service. Lenz sought to have the video reinstated using the provisions of the DMCA. Notwithstanding Universal’s resistance, the video was eventually reinstated by YouTube.

Lenz’s lawsuit (which was supported by the Electronic Frontier Foundation) stalled on the issue of whether the DMCA required copyright owners to take fair use into consideration before issuing takedown notices. On Monday, September 14, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit issued its decision on this issue, clearing the way for the matter to finally head to trial. The Court ruled that copyright owners do indeed have an obligation to take fair use into account. In order to issue a takedown notice, the copyright owner must include a statement, pursuant to 17 USC § 512(c)(3)(A)(v) to the effect that “We have a good faith belief that the above-described activity is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.” The DMCA provides, in §512(f) that a party that abuses the DMCA by, among other things, materially misrepresenting “that material or activity is infringing”, is liable for damages.

The core issue for the court to determine was what meaning to give to the statement required by the DMCA that the copyright owner has a good faith belief that the material at issue is not “authorized. . . by law.” More specifically, the issue was whether the fair use defences in the Copyright Act are merely defences, or whether they are provisions capable of “authorizing” certain uses of copyright protected materials. The Court of Appeal found that “the statute unambiguously contemplates fair use as a use authorized by law.” (at p. 11) It ruled that fair use was only characterized as a defence for procedural purposes. The provision itself declares that “the fair use of a copyright work. . . is not an infringement of copyright.” (Note that in Canada, the fair dealing provisions are framed in a similar manner: “Fair dealing . . . does not infringe copyright. . . “.(see ss. 29-29.2 of the Copyright Act). The Court of Appeals also found that even if fair use were considered an “affirmative defense”, it would still have a different character. The Court concluded that because the fair use provision of the U.S. Copyright Act “created a type of non-infringing use, fair use is “authorized by the law” and a copyright holder must consider the existence of fair use before sending a takedown notification.” (at p. 15)

The Court of Appeal also turned its attention to whether Universal knowingly represented that it believed the video did not constitute a fair use of the copyright protected work. The Court was of the view that Universal had to establish a subjective (rather than an objective) good faith belief that the use in question was not authorized. The Court clarified that a copyright owner that formed a good faith belief that a use was not a fair use would not be liable under the DMCA for sending out a takedown notice. However, “if a copyright holder ignores or neglects our unequivocal holding that it must consider fair use before sending a takedown notification”, it will be liable (at p. 17). The Court also made it clear that any copyright owner who merely ”pays lip service to the consideration of fair use by claiming it formed a good faith belief when there is evidence to the contrary” is still liable (at pp. 17-18). The consideration given to the fair use issue “need not be searching or intensive.” (at p. 18) The Court did not rule out the use of screening algorithms to detect potentially infringing content and even to meet the statutory requirement to consider fair use, although it did not consider the issue in detail as Universal did not claim to have used a screening algorithm in this case.

The Court also indicated that a “willful blindness” theory might be available to determine whether a copyright owner made a knowing misrepresentation of a good faith belief that the activity at issue was not fair use. However, on the facts before it, it ruled that the wilful blindness was not available. To show wilful blindness, a plaintiff would have to establish both the defendant’s subjective belief that “there is a high probability that a fact exists” and that the defendant took “deliberate actions to avoid learning of that fact” (at pp. 20-21) The Court found that Lenz had not met the threshold to establish the first element of that test.

On a final point, Universal had argued that Lenz’s suit must fail because she could not show that she suffered any monetary loss as a result of their actions. The Court of Appeals ruled that a plaintiff in Lenz’s circumstances could seek the recovery of nominal damages.

The decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals is significant. It is handed down in a context in which many feel that copyright holders have been abusing the notice and takedown provisions of the DMCA, effectively using them to suppress otherwise legitimate expression. The Court of Appeal had some strong words for copyright owners, warning them that they “cannot shirk their duty to consider – in good faith and prior to sending a takedown notification – whether allegedly infringing material constitutes faire use, a use which the DMCA plainly contemplates as authorized by the law.” (at p. 25)


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.


Wednesday, 18 February 2015 08:29

Intellectual Property Issues in Citizen Science

Written by Teresa Scassa

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.


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.

 


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.


Does copyright subsist in documents that must be submitted as part of judicial or regulatory processes and that are, as a result, publicly available? Some time ago I wrote about two cases making their way through the legal system that raised this issue. A proposed class action settlement agreement in one of these cases, Waldman v. Thomson Reuters Canada, Ltd., has just been smacked down by Justice Perell of the Ontario Superior Court.

The representative plaintiff of this class action lawsuit is lawyer Lorne Waldman, who is well known for his representation of Maher Arar, among others. The defendant is Thomson Reuters Canada Ltd., which operates a major legal database on a fee-for-access basis. As part of this database it provides a “Litigator” service which includes copies of documents filed by lawyers in important cases in Canada. The kinds of documents reproduced in Litigator include affidavits, factums, and pleadings. Such documents are of use to other lawyers – and to the growing number of self-represented litigants – as precedents, or as research resources. They are also of interest to law students and legal academics.

The copyright issues around such documents are interesting. Most would be considered original works of authorship, and would normally be protected by copyright. Because these documents must be filed in court proceedings, they are generally publicly accessible under the open courts principle. However, for the most part these documents are still not available in open, electronic databases hosted by courts. Where they are not electronically available, individuals may consult the court files in person, and/or may request copies of documents for a fee. No licence is sought by the court registrars from lawyers in these circumstances for the right to copy their documents. Indeed, under the open courts principle, a lawyer could not refuse permission to access or copy these documents. Although not directly on point, in a recent court decision in the U.S., which involved claims of copyright in court documents, the court found that as between courts, clients and their lawyers, copyright issues had to take a back seat to the interests of justice.

Even if there were no general licence to copy court documents, in the case of those who are not parties to the litigation and who seek to use such materials, whether they are found in court records or in Litigator, copyright’s fair dealing exception for research or private study would most likely cover their activities. Recent Supreme Court of Canada decisions make it clear that courts should take a liberal approach to interpreting fair dealing, including fair dealing for the purposes of research or private study. In 2004, the Supreme Court of Canada specifically found that research for commercial purposes – including legal research carried out for clients – fell within the scope of this defence. It is less clear that the activities of Thomson would qualify as fair dealing, but to the extent to which they facilitate access to documents already available to the public, there may be some traction to the argument.

It is likely that rather than find that documents filed in court are not protected by copyright at all, a court would find that there is an implied licence permitting copying in respect of all documents filed in court proceedings. What is less clear is the scope of any such licence. Would it include the broad-based copying of materials so as to make them available for a fee? Would it make a difference if the cost of acquiring copies through this paid service was less than the cost of acquiring those copies through the courts?

In the settlement agreement that was brought to the court for its approval, Thomson agreed not to claim copyright in the materials in Litigator, and to provide notice to its subscribers that some material in its database might be covered by third party copyright. It also agreed that for a period of ten years (and apparently no longer) it would give notice to any lawyer whose materials it planned to include in Litigator. If the lawyer objected to the inclusion of the materials, those documents would be excluded from the service. It also agreed to create a trust fund to support public interest litigation. In exchange for the above, the class members would provide Thomson with a non-exclusive worldwide, perpetual and irrevocable licence to use the works. Class members would have the ability to opt out of the settlement. The settlement agreement also included a fee of $850,000 to be paid to the lawyers for the class.

There was support for the settlement from a number of organizations such as the Canadian Bar Association, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association. These organizations were chiefly onside because of the trust fund that would benefit public interest litigation. Six class members also wrote letters in support of the settlement. However, support was not universal. Seven class members wrote letters opposing the settlement. It may not be surprising that the lightning rod for opposition to the settlement was the huge disparity between the amount of the fund created to support public interest litigation and the fees sought by class counsel. One opponent wrote: “this smacks of lawyers taking an opportunity to make money in a scenario where there was likely little value to the individual class members.” (at para 69). Another stated: “This reeks of a distortion of the noble goal of legitimate class action proceedings”. (at para 70). A third lawyer objected on the basis that he felt that court documents were public as of the moment of filing, and should be readily available electronically. Another noted that class members received nothing of benefit in exchange for the licence they would be required to give to Thomson.

Justice Perell was unequivocal in his rejection of this settlement agreement. He found that the Agreement was not “fair, reasonable, and in the best interests of the Class Members” (at para 90). He found that the settlement allowed the plaintiffs to “emerge unscathed” from what was now “prohibitively high-risk litigation” (presumably because of the weakness of the copyright claims). For Thomson, the Agreement would allow it to acquire, at relatively low cost, 13,000 non-exclusive copyright licences and releases from copyright owners. They also would evade any litigation risk, and would be spared further costs of litigation.

Justice Perell found that the class members would derive no benefit from the agreement. In fact, he concluded that the agreement “brings the administration of justice and class actions into disrepute because: (a) the Settlement is more beneficial to Class Counsel than it is to the Class Members; and (b) in its practical effect, the Settlement expropriates the Class Members’ property rights in exchange for a charitable donation from Thomson.” (at para 95). Interestingly, Justice Perell characterized the principle at issue in this case as being “that Thomson should not take what most lawyers would be prepared to give away for free if only politely asked.” (at para 98). Here, Justice Perell found that providing Thomson with a licence did not respond to that basic principle. He found that “there is no access to substantive justice for the claims of Class Members and no meaningful behaviour modification for Thomson.” (at para 101)

Justice Perell was also scathing about the imbalance between the amount of the charitable trust fund and the amount of the lawyers’ fees. He was not mollified by the offer of class counsel to donate $150,000 of their fee payment to the trust fund. He wrote “a fairer and more reasonable resolution of this class action would have been to seek court approval of a discontinuance of the action on terms that provided for a cy-près payment and a fair and reasonable Class Counsel Fee and no granting of licences.” (at para 107)

It would seem that this suggestion of a possible settlement embraces the view that no licence is needed to copy the documents at issue. Yet, it is not clear what any settlement that did not involve a concession of licences would mean for Thomson and its desire to continue offering these materials through Litigator. Without resolution of the underlying copyright issues, the uncertainty regarding the re-use of such materials will remain.


A recent decision from the Federal Court of Canada squarely addresses the issue of copyright trolls and the impact they may have on ordinary Internet users. It also highlights the importance of public interest advocacy in a context that is rife with economic and power imbalances.

The Internet is widely used as a source of content – whether it is in the form of film, music, text or visual works. While there is a great deal of content available both free and for a fee from authorized distributors, other content is shared without the consent of copyright holders. Where unauthorized distribution takes place, copyright may be infringed – but of course whether there has been actual infringement by the downstream user may depend upon a range of considerations.

Copyright owners – particularly those in the film and music industries – have for some time now been decrying the widespread unauthorized sharing of content over the Internet. They have also adopted a variety of strategies to impede these activities. These have included suing file-sharing services such as Napster, Grokster or Pirate Bay, with a view to having them shut down, public education campaigns, and threats of legal action or actual law suits against individual downloaders of protected content. It is with respect to this latter category of action that the label “copyright troll” has been used.

In Voltage Pictures LLC v. John Doe and Jane Doe, Prothonotary Aalto of the Federal Court considered an application for an order to compel Internet service provider TekSavvy to disclose the identities of individuals linked to some 2000 IP addresses that in turn had been associated with illegal downloading of Voltage’s copyright protected films. An earlier Federal Court of Appeal decision in a case involving music downloads had outlined the circumstances in which such an order might be granted, taking into consideration the necessary balance between the applicant’s rights and the privacy rights of the individuals linked to IP addresses. Voltage argued that it had met all of the requirements of this test.

The Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, more commonly known as CIPPIC, intervened in this case in the public interest. CIPPIC’s intervention was particularly important given that there was really no other available party to speak out for the interests of the still anonymous Internet users whose identities might be disclosed were an order to be issued. It is clear as well from reading Prothonotary Aalto’s reasons, that CIPPIC’s submissions had a significant impact on the outcome.

The decision begins with a quote from a U.S. case which speaks of the rise of “copyright trolls”, and it is clear that the spectre of such trolls looms over the Federal Court’s decision. The concept of “trolls” has become common in both patent and copyright litigation. In the copyright context, a troll is a plaintiff who files “multitudes of lawsuits solely to extort quick settlements”.[1] Trolling is a business model in its own right – suits are launched not so much in order to deter or to compensate for the harm caused by infringement; rather, trolling generates revenue by compelling individuals to settle for sums that are lower than the cost of obtaining legal advice and pursing a defence to the threatened action. As Prothonotary Aalto noted in his extensive reasons, copyright trolls have been active in other jurisdictions, and courts in both the U.K. and the U.S. have striven to find an appropriate result that protects individuals while recognizing the rights of copyright owners to bring legal action.

Prothonotary Aalto’s decision is, in fact, an exploration of the issues raised and an attempt to find an appropriate balance between the rights of individuals to pursue their online activities without having their identities disclosed to third parties, and the rights of copyright owners to sue for infringing uses of their works. He begins his reasons by considering the test for a Norwich Order laid out by the Federal Court of Appeal in BMG v. John Doe, another case which required the court to balance privacy interests against the rights of copyright holders. Although in Voltage, CIPPIC argued that the threshold for the application of this test was too low, and that parties seeking disclosures of the names of individual Internet users should have to make out a prima facie case of infringement, rather than just a bona fide (good faith) claim, Prothonotary Aalto found that the test set out by the Federal Court of Appeal was both appropriate and applicable. He also found that Voltage had met the prescribed test, ruling that “the enforcement of Voltage’s rights as a copyright holder outweighs the privacy interests of the affected internet users.” (at para 57) He noted, however, that the test left room to consider and to moderate the impact of the order on privacy rights.

There was no evidence in this case that Voltage was a copyright troll. Indeed, Prothonotary Aalto found that Voltage had met its burden of showing that it had a genuine copyright infringement case and that a court order to compel TekSavvy to release the contact information of some of its customers was the only reasonable means of establishing the identities of the alleged infringers. However, he acknowledged evidence and argument by CIPPIC to the effect that there might be technological flaws in the methods used to link IP addresses to downloading activities, such that some IP addresses may have been identified in error. He also accepted that some of the downloading activity might be justifiable under one defense or another. More importantly, perhaps, he was sensitive to the evidence supplied by CIPPIC of copyright troll activities in other jurisdictions and of the concerns of courts in those jurisdictions regarding such practices.

Ultimately, Prothonotary Aalto’s decision seeks to balance the intellectual property rights of the copyright owner with the privacy rights of individuals who might be identified as a result of a court granting a Norwich Order. In his view, it is only in a case where there is “compelling evidence of improper motive on behalf of a plaintiff in seeking to obtain information about alleged infringers” that a court would be justified in refusing to grant such an order. (at para 133) Nevertheless, the court has the authority to place terms and conditions on the grant of the order, and these terms and conditions can protect the privacy of individuals by ensuring that their personal information is not shared or misused by a company that seeks this information for improper purposes, such as copyright trolling.

In issuing the Norwich Order in this case – which compels TekSavvy to furnish the information sought, Prothonotary Aalto placed significant limits on the order. In the first place, Voltage is ordered to compensate TekSavvy for its legal and administrative costs in compiling the requested information. A copy of the court’s order must accompany any correspondence sent to TekSavvy customers by Voltage as a result of the sharing of the customer information. Any such correspondence must also “clearly state in bold type that no Court has yet made a determination that such Subscriber has infringed or is liable in any way for payment of damages.” (clause 8 of the order) This is to avoid the type of demand letter seen in copyright troll cases in other jurisdictions where letters sent to individuals convey the impression that conclusions have already been reached on issues of infringement. As an additional safeguard, Prothonotary Aalto ordered that a draft of any such letter must be reviewed by the Case Management Judge appointed to oversee the process before it is sent to any individuals. The order also provides that the personal information shared by TekSavvy as a result of the order must be kept confidential by Voltage and must not be shared with anyone else – including the general public or the media -- without the court’s permission.

The decision in this case is a welcome one. It reflects a serious effort to ensure fairness and balance between the parties. It provides the applicant with the means to obtain the information it needs to pursue copyright infringement claims; at the same time, it imposes restrictions designed to ensure that the personal information is not used improperly to generate revenue well in excess of any damages suffered by the rights holder by pushing individuals into settlements in order to avoid the costs and stresses of threatened litigation. The decision is a direct result of public interest advocacy and a reminder of the important role played by organizations such as CIPPIC.

It is worth noting that the 2012 amendments to the Copyright Act included changes to the statutory damages provisions in that statute. These provisions allow plaintiffs to opt for a fixed amount of damages in cases of infringement – in other words, to be compensated without having to establish any particular losses. The 2012 amendments drastically reduced the amount of statutory damages that can be awarded against individuals whose infringing activities are essentially non-commercial. This takes away the ability for plaintiffs to stack statutory damages in suits against individual downloaders in order to arrive at the ridiculously high (and ultimately punitive) damage awards that we have seen in the U.S. in lawsuits against students or other private individuals whose downloading was simply for their own consumption. The message from Parliament is clearly that this type of conduct, while still infringing, should not be be exploited by rights holders either to “send messages” or to provide a new business model based on serial demand letters to large numbers of vulnerable individuals. The decision by Prothonotary Aalto is in keeping with this message. While copyright owners are entitled to enforce their rights through the courts, the courts must ensure that “the judicial process is not being used to support a business model intended to coerce innocent individuals to make payments to avoid being sued.” (at para 35)



[1] This is from TCYK, LLC v. Does 1-88, 2013 U.S. Dist LEXIS 88402. The quoted words are part of the passage in the quote that starts off the Federal Court decision.


Tuesday, 25 February 2014 11:04

Book launch event

Written by Teresa Scassa

In December 2013, Justice Campbell of the Federal Court of Canada awarded 10 million dollars in statutory damages to Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation against Nicholas Hernandez and two unknown defendants. The court also awarded an additional half a million dollars in punitive damages. The decision was reached by default judgment, which means that the defendants did not respond to the lawsuit.

Statutory damages for copyright infringement have been available under Canada’s Copyright Act since 1997. Essentially, a plaintiff in a copyright infringement suit has the option to choose to receive statutory damages rather than to establish the actual quantum of damages suffered. For infringement with a commercial purpose, statutory damages range from a minimum of $500 to a maximum of $20,000 for all of the infringements related to a given work. A plaintiff might choose statutory damages when the amount of their loss is either very small or is difficult to quantify. Statutory damages are of particular benefit to large corporate rights holders whose works are downloaded in large quantities from the internet, and who might otherwise face difficult challenges in proving actual losses. Among other things, statutory damages provisions in the U.S. have made it worthwhile for record companies to sue individuals for music downloading. Where a defendant has downloaded 1000 songs, for example, the per-work damage awards would quickly add up to a significant total, making the lawsuit not simply about the recovery of damages (which may greatly exceed the benefit obtained by the defendant) but also about punishment and arguably deterrence. In Canada, the 2012 amendments to the Copyright Act have made these kinds of lawsuits more difficult in cases where the defendants have copied works for purely private purposes. In such cases, the amount of statutory damages is considerably reduced and such damages are awarded not per work, but rather for all infringements and for all works in any given proceeding.

In Twentieth Century Fox v. Hernandez,* the defendants were alleged to have operated two websites that made unauthorized copies of episodes of both The Simpsons and Family Guy available for free download or streaming. These activities were not of a purely private nature – the copies were made with a view to disseminating them further, and there was evidence that the defendants profited from their venture. The Court did not provide a detailed accounting of how it arrived at the statutory damages award of $10,000,000. For example, it did not identify how many episodes of the two television series were made available for download. As a result, it was not clear whether Justice Campbell was awarding damages at the low or high end of the scale – or somewhere in between. Since no amount per work is actually specified (nor is the number of works provided) it is no surprise that there is also no explanation of the rationale for the per-work amount. These details would seem to be important in shaping the jurisprudence in relation to these types of awards. Further, according to Justice Campbell, the award of statutory damages alone was not sufficient “to achieve the goal of punishment and deterrence of the offense of copyright infringement in this case”. For this reason, the additional half million dollars in punitive damages was awarded. Without any indication of the number of works at issue or the per work amount of damages, it is also difficult to assess the appropriateness of the award of punitive damages. Given that the defendants did not defend themselves in the proceedings, it is not likely they will file an appeal; however, the low likelihood of an appeal is not an excuse for not providing full reasons to explain the award of damages. [Note that there are approximately collectively about 750 episodes of the two shows. If all episodes were made available from the websites, then the damage award would be just over $13,000 per episode – on the high end, but not at the top of the scale.]

Mistrale Goudreau and Joao Velloso have written an interesting article on statutory damages in the recently published book Intellectual Property Law for the 21st Century: Interdisciplinary Approaches. In their piece, titled “Punishment Private Style: Statutory Damages in Canadian Copyright Law”, Goudreau and Velloso argue that punitive and statutory damages are used by courts to penalize copyright infringement – as is evident in the Hernandez case. The authors argue that the result is a form of punishment for infringing activity that lacks the procedural safeguards that are normally present in criminal prosecutions. While the authors’ focus is more on the use of statutory damages in non-commercial contexts, they offer some thoughtful – and critical – insights into the role of statutory damages within our copyright regime.

* Note that the court decision discussed in this blog is not available from the Federal Court’s website. This link is to a private website that has made the decision publicly available.


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