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Copyright Law

Copyright Law (31)

A recent Federal Court of Appeal decision may have significant implications for the licensing of government data by federal and provincial governments. Nautical Data International Inc v. C-Map USA Inc. is a decision that relates to a lawsuit brought by Nautical Data against the defendant C-Map after C-Map allegedly used data from Canadian Hydrographic Service charts and maps to create its digital charts. Nautical Data took the position that it had acquired the rights, through an exclusive licence, to the raw data that was used in the preparation of the charts, and that these rights were infringed by C-Maps activities. Of course, the two parties were competing in the production of digital navigation products.

Typically, government data licences, whether open or otherwise, assert that the government has rights in the data being licensed. Even the federal government’s recently proposed Open Data Licence covers information that is defined as “information protected by copyright or by database right...”. Leaving aside the imported and inappropriate reference to database rights that do not exist in Canada (see my earlier blog on this point), the government is clearly assuming that it has copyright in the data that is the subject of such licenses. Geobase’s Unrestricted Use Licence Agreement also boldly asserts that “Canada is the owner of or has rights in the data (the Data) addressed by the terms and conditions of this Agreement”. The claims, evident in these open licences, are repeated in more closed licences as well. The licence at issue in the Nautical Data case defined CHS data as “any data owned by Canada and maintained by CHS”.

This idea that data can be “owned” and that copyright law is the vehicle for this ownership is clearly evident in these and in many other licences in both the private and public sectors. This is the case, notwithstanding the fact that in copyright law, there can be no monopoly in facts or data. Copyright will only protect an original expression of facts or data. In a compilation of data, that expression will be manifest in an original selection or arrangement of the data. Even if there is an original selection or arrangement, the protection extends only to that selection or arrangement; it never extends to the underlying data.

While copyright academics have made this point before, it has largely fallen on deaf ears. That is why the comments by the Federal Court of Appeal on this point are so interesting. While the decision is not on the merits of the case (the litigation was about whether summary judgment should be rendered on the issues; the court ruled was that it should not – that the matter should proceed to trial) Justices Nadon and Sharlow state quite plainly that “there can be no copyright in information.”(at para 11). Moreover, they express a certain surprise at the wording of the licence. They state:

Section 6.1 is intended to be a formal acknowledgement of Crown copyright, but it refers to copyright in the CHS Data. Either the parties were unaware that copyright could not subsist in information (which we would not presume), or they understood the phrase “CHS Data” by necessary implication to mean or at least include the CHS Works, even though the definition of “CHS Data” in the licence seems to limit its meaning to “data”. (at para 13)

This is perhaps one of the politest ways possible to criticize the drafting of the licence. Justices Nadon and Sharlow go on to note that the allegation in the licence that the Crown “owns” the data is similarly troublesome. They state: “If it is intended to mean that data can be owned in the same way as property can be owned, then there is some question as to whether it is correct as a matter of law. . . . there is no principle of property law that would preclude anyone from making use of information displayed in a publicly available paper nautical chart, even if the information originated with the Crown or is maintained by the Crown.” (at para 14)

These statements are both interesting and important, and direct attention towards the rather thorny issues around the protection of data in Canada. Data producers, whether in the public or private sectors, have asserted claims to copyright in their data that are far stronger than the law apparently supports. They can do this largely because to challenge such a claim would require engaging in costly and time-consuming litigation which is beyond the reach of ordinary citizens and many businesses as well. It is perhaps the law’s version of Stephen Colbert’s ‘wikiality’ – let’s call it legiality: if you can get enough people to say that certain rights exist, then perhaps for all intents and purposes they do.

Although the copyright issues are not fully litigated in this installment of the Nautical Data saga, the statements by Justices Nadon and Sharlow are a jurisprudential shot across the bows (if you will forgive the nautical reference) of those who claim excessive rights to data in copyright licenses. Whether it is the Nautical Data case that will eventually provide the clarification of the law on these issues or other cases that may be working their way through the system, it really is time for our courts to reinforce the Federal Court of Appeal's clear message regarding over-claiming data licences: there simply is no copyright in facts.


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.


Thursday, 14 February 2013 15:37

Public Art, Private Rights: The Case of Graffiti

Written by Teresa Scassa

Roberta Bell of the Orillia Packet and Times has reported on an art exhibit that was pulled by a local art gallery after concerns were raised about possible copyright infringement. The situation highlights competing public policy concerns.

The artist in question, K.D. Neely, had digitally enhanced a series of photographs she had taken of graffiti from the Raval district in Barcelona. This is not the first time such an issue has arisen in Canada. Similar copyright concerns led to the closing of another exhibit of photographs of graffiti at a Toronto Gallery in 2008.

There is no question that graffiti may constitute an “artistic work” within the meaning of the Copyright Act. It is an interesting and open question whether copyright can be enforced in illegal works, but not all graffiti is illegal. Many such works are commissioned by building owners or municipalities, for example.

The owner of copyright in a graffiti artwork, like any other copyright owner, has a series of rights under the Act which include the right to reproduce or authorize the reproduction of their work. Taking a photograph of all or a substantial part of a graffiti artwork is a reproduction under copyright law. Further, an artist has certain moral rights in relation to their work. These would include the right to be associated with their work by name or pseudonym, or to remain anonymous. The moral right of integrity protects the artist against any distortion, modification, or mutilation of their work to the prejudice of their honour or reputation. In the case of a painting, the prejudice is deemed to have occurred as a result of any mutilation or modification. A photograph that presents only part of a graffiti work, or that adds elements to it might therefore violate the artist’s right of integrity.

Of course, a photographer whose photographs do more than simply reproduce the work of another would also have copyright in their own works. A photographer who makes choices as to what parts of a graffiti work to include in her photo, or how to include other aspects of the urban landscape, for example, is creating a new, copyright protected work. However, it is well established that an artist (or a writer, or musician) cannot incorporate the copyright protected works of others into their own works unless they have permission to do so, or unless they can rely upon a fair dealing defence. The fact that a new work is created is not, on its own, a defence to copyright infringement. Musicians who engage in sampling and appropriation artists have railed against these restrictions on how they create their own works, but copyright law has remained, by and large, unyielding in the face of these arguments. One of the public policy issues raised by this case, therefore, is whether the law gives appropriate latitude to creators to draw upon the works of others in the creation of their own works. When does a new work sufficiently transform the work on which it is based so as to be free from the need to seek permission to use the earlier work?

In Canada, the fair dealing defence to copyright infringement is available only where works are used for certain purposes. These are: research or private study, criticism or comment, news reporting, parody or satire, and education. In addition to being used for one of the specified purposes, any dealing with the work must be fair. The amount of the work used, and the impact of the dealing on the original are both factors that are taken into account in assessing fair dealing. Fair dealing is thus a very context-specific defence, and in many cases it will be frankly rather difficult to know whether a person’s dealing with a work was fair without engaging in costly litigation. There is no general exception to infringement based on arguments that a new work has been created.

Section 32.2 of the Copyright Act sets out a series of “permitted acts” in relation to copyright protected works. In paragraph 32.2(2)(b), the law provides that it is not copyright infringement to “reproduce, in a painting, drawing, engraving, photograph or cinematographic work” either an architectural work or a sculpture that is permanently situated in a public place or building. The provision clearly aims to establish a balance between the rights of copyright holders and the rights of individuals to occupy and relate to the public spaces around them. In other words, if your art work is in a public place, you have to accept that it will be treated as part of the landscape in photographs and other artworks. This is the case whether photos are taken by tourists, artists, or by photographers who sell their works for postcards or calendars.

What the drafters of s. 32.2(2)(b) omitted to address, however, was the issue of paintings that are situated in public spaces. Indeed, graffiti is very much a part of public landscapes. However, it would seem that unlike sculptures in parks or city squares, it cannot be photographed with impunity. This clearly seems to be a gap in the law. Why should graffiti artists be put in a better position than architects or sculptors when it comes to their rights in relation to their works? Why should anyone be inhibited in the taking of photographs of urban streetscapes that contain graffiti?

One answer to these questions might be that graffiti artists are in a different position than architects and sculptors, who are often paid handsomely for their contributions to public space. Although some works of graffiti are commissioned, many are not, and graffiti artists might well object to the capture of their works in photographs that are sold in galleries or reproduced for sale in other contexts without their permission and without compensation. The position is certainly understandable, yet it is also important to keep our public spaces as public as possible. Layering our streetscapes with private rights is almost certainly not in the broader public interest. Yet barring a change in the law or a surprising court interpretation of fair dealing in the context of photos of graffiti, this would seem to be our current situation.

 


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