Teresa Scassa - Blog

Wednesday, 03 July 2013 09:48

Band’s Logo Attracts Provincial Ire

Written by  Teresa Scassa
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The Alberta rock band named Jr. Gone Wild has been in the news after Alberta’s Department of Culture ordered it to stop using a modified version of the province’s official emblem as part of the band’s logo. A photo of the band’s logo can be viewed along with the Edmonton Journal article on this issue.

A law titled the Emblems of Alberta Act makes it an offence to use “for commercial or business purposes” the armorial bearings of Alberta without consent. It is also an offence to use “any design so nearly resembling the armorial bearings of Alberta or any portion of them as to be calculated to deceive”. Although the band is using the arms for commercial purposes (it is selling T-Shirts emblazoned with its logo), it is not clear that this use of the modified design is calculated to deceive anyone. It remains an open question whether anyone viewing the logo would be led to believe that the band is in any way the official rock band of Alberta.

The Minister of Culture has also enacted regulations governing official emblems. According to these regulations, the emblem can be reproduced, used or displayed for non-commercial purposes so long as the use or display is in good taste. Commercial use is also permitted under certain conditions. These are that the use:


(a)    is free from any implication that the commercial or business purposes have any approval or accreditation from the Government,

(b)    is based on original drawings obtained from the Government, and

(c)    conforms, in the opinion of the Minister, to good taste.

The regulations are not clear about whether a modified version of the emblem can be used at all. For example, it is not clear whether the “good taste” requirement relates to modifications, or simply to the context in which the emblem is to be used. According to the story in the Edmonton Journal, it is not yet clear whether the band will change its logo and dispose of its unsold merchandise, or whether it will disregard the Minister’s order.

It is not unusual for governments to pass laws to protect their official emblems and insignia. For example there are similar statutes in Saskatchewan (with much stiffer penalties), and in Manitoba. There is certainly a public interest in ensuring that people are not misled into believing that certain products or services have been offered or endorsed by the government when they have not. Provincial arms, crests and flags are also listed as prohibited marks under s. 9(1)(e) of the Trade-marks Act. This means that these marks, or ones “so nearly resembling as to be likely to be mistaken” for them may not be adopted or used “in connection with a business, as a trade-mark or otherwise”. Thus there is ample law to protect against misuse of these signs or symbols.

The question is, of course, what the limits of freedom of expression are when it comes to the insignia of government, or other public symbols. According to the report in the Edmonton Journal, the band sees itself as “just doing art”. Artistic expression is, of course, protected expression in Canada. Yet like other of Canada’s civil liberties, it is subject to “reasonable limits demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

The Royal Canadian Mint recently backed down from a demand for licensing fees from a musician who used images of the penny on his album cover. There was also considerable controversy in Nova Scotia in the mid-2000’s when a company charged with the maintenance and operation of the Bluenose II began demanding licensing fees from local businesses who used the name or image of the iconic schooner. Of course, in each of these cases it was the symbol or name itself that was used, and not a modified version. And, while iconic, the penny and the Bluenose are not official insignia of government. The question remains as to how the balance should be struck between the public interest in the protection of official arms and insignia and the public interest in the freedom to use these insignia as a vehicle for expression.

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