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Teresa Scassa

Teresa Scassa

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit recently issued an interesting opinion that addresses the issue of whether trademarks can be reproduced without permission in artistic works. In The University of Alabama Board of Trustees v. New Life Art, Inc. & Daniel A. Moore, the University of Alabama sued a well known artist who had built his career around paintings featuring the University’s famous Crimson Tide football team. The paintings inevitably feature a number of the University’s trademarks, including logos on helmets and jerseys and the team’s signature colours. The well-known artist sold not only his paintings, but also prints, calendars, mugs and other items featuring reproductions of his works.

Moore painted football scenes from 1979 to 1990 without entering into any kind of agreement with the University of Alabama. In the period between 1991 and 1999 he entered into several different licence agreements for the production and marketing of specific items that would feature both his artistic works and additional University of Alabama trademarks. These products would bear markings indicating they were “official” merchandise, and proceeds of sale were shared with the university. During this period Moore continued to create paintings independent of any licence agreement. The university never asked him to pay royalties or otherwise seek permission for the sale of any paintings or prints of his work.

In 2002, the University changed its position with respect to Moore’s work, and informed him that he would need a licence for any University of Alabama-related works that featured University trademarks. Moore disagreed and did not seek licences for his paintings and prints. The University bookstore sold unlicensed calendars featuring Moore’s work during this period. It also had several of Moore’s unlicensed paintings hanging at different locations on campus. The disagreement eventually blossomed into litigation; the University sued Moore for violating their trademark rights in his paintings, prints, calendars, mugs and other items. At trial, the judge ruled that use of trademarks in the paintings and prints was protected by the First Amendment (freedom of speech), but that the reproduction of these same paintings on other merchandise fell outside the scope of the First Amendment and would likely infringe the trademarks by causing consumer confusion.

The Court of Appeals ruled that the inclusion of the University’s trademarks in the paintings, prints and calendars was indeed protected by the First Amendment. The Court stated: “we conclude that the First Amendment interests in artistic expression so clearly outweigh whatever consumer confusion that might exist on these facts that we must necessarily conclude that there has been no violation of the Lanham Act with respect to the paintings, prints, and calendars.” The Court rejected the University’s arguments that the paintings, prints and calendars represented commercial speech, and were therefore entitled to a lower level of constitutional protection. According to the Court, the fact that the items were sold for money did not render them commercial speech. The Court ruled that trademark rights should be construed narrowly in the context of artistic works. It ruled that “[t]he depiction of the University’s uniforms in the content of these items is artistically relevant to the expressive underlying works because the uniform’s colors and designs are needed for a realistic portrayal of famous scenes from Alabama football history.”

Unfortunately, Moore did not appeal the decision of the lower court that the paintings on the mugs and other items (including t-shirts, towels and so on) fell outside first amendment protection. Instead, he argued that the University, through its conduct had acquiesced to the sale of this merchandise. The issue was remanded to the district court for further consideration. It would certainly have been interesting to have a ruling on the issue of whether a trademark owner could place limits on the right of an artist to sell copies of works featuring trademarks through a broad range of merchandising opportunities.

Although similar questions have not yet been raised in Canadian courts, the issues are important here as well. In 2007, the federal government enacted special legislation to give enhanced protection to Olympic and Paralympic trademarks. When concerns were raised about the impact the law might have on the freedom of expression of artists who might create works incorporating these well known marks, Parliament amended the law to include the following exception:

 

3(6) For greater certainty, the inclusion of an Olympic or Paralympic mark or a translation of it in any language in an artistic work, within the meaning of the Copyright Act, by the author of that work, is not in itself a use in connection with a business if the work is not reproduced on a commercial scale. [my emphasis]

 

The expression “for greater certainty” suggests that the provision is simply clarifying the law rather than creating a new exception. While the provision makes it clear that the protected trademarks may be incorporated into artistic works, those works only qualify for the exception if they are “not reproduced on a commercial scale.” This is a rather tricky phrase. It is not at all clear what the reproduction of an artistic work on a commercial scale would entail. A single painting offered for sale might be acceptable, but a numbered series of prints might not. Further, it might not be permissible for an artist to licence multiple unnumbered prints, or to publish his or her work in a calendar. While all of these uses of an artistic work would appear to be protected by the First Amendment in the United States, the Olympic and Paralympic Marks Act seems to codify a narrower scope for artistic expression. The question of mugs, t-shirts and other items featuring the artistic work is entirely unresolved.

Canadian courts have tended to take a narrow view of freedom of expression issues in intellectual property law. The Moore case in the United States is provocative for challenging the balance between the expressive rights of an artist whose work incorporates the trademarks of others and the rights of the trademark holder. It remains to be seen how a Canadian court will approach such a balancing act, and how, in consequence it might interpret such an ambiguous provision as s. 3(6) of the Olympic and Paralympic Marks Act.

 

Voltage Pictures LLC has brought a motion in Federal Court seeking a court order that would compel Internet Service Provider Teksavvy Solutions Inc. to disclose the identities of customers using certain IP addresses that have been linked to Internet file-sharing of works in which Voltage owns the copyright. If the court were to order the disclosure, the identified individuals could be sued for copyright infringement by Voltage.

The University of Ottawa’s Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC) has brought a motion to intervene in the proceedings. CIPPIC has an established track record in representing the public interest in cases of this kind; they have argued for a balance between individuals’ privacy interests in their online activities and copyright holders interests in previous litigation. The Federal Court has adjourned its hearing of Voltage’s motion in order to consider the issue of CIPPIC’s intervention.

A New York newspaper created a furore by publishing, in the wake of the tragic school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, an interactive online map that displayed the names and addresses of residents holding permits for guns. The newspaper obtained the data through an access to information request. The map was accompanied by an article with the title: “The gun owner next door: What you don't know about the weapons in your neighborhood." The map and article provoked outrage. Gun owners were concerned about their privacy, and one news agency ran an interview with a retired burglar who suggested that the map would make burglars’ work much easier. A blogger responded to the map by creating another map which featured the names and addresses of the staff of the newspaper. The newspaper has reportedly had to hire armed guards to protect its main office.

This is, of course, not the first time that controversial information maps have been created by news agencies or by others. In California, for example, information about election donors is a matter of public record. Someone used this information to publish a map detailing the names, addresses and contribution amounts of individuals who had donated to a campaign to amend the State’s constitution to prohibit gay marriage.


Widely available Web 2.0 tools and resources have made it easy for almost anyone to create online maps. The ability to present information in a geographical context is an attractive option. Information maps are visually appealing, and can reveal patterns and permit connections that might not be evident from data presented in the form of lists or plain text. For example, Patrick Cain, a Canadian journalist, has been creating innovative and fascinating information maps for many years. Perhaps one of his most useful maps is his annual map of busted grow-ops in Toronto. There are real risks associated with purchasing a house which was once used for a grow op, and there is no obligation on sellers to disclose this information. The grow-op maps provide important and easily accessible information for those searching for a new home.

 

While there is no doubt that information maps can be useful and important, there are also potential risks. There is a great deal of publicly available information collected by different levels of government. For example, many registers of public documents, and decisions of administrative tribunals are already accessible to the public. The Privacy Commissioner of Canada has expressed concerns about the consequences of placing this sort of information online; in the past, public access was available only to those who took the trouble to show up at specific sites to view the entries in the register. This implicitly limited access to this information. While some of this public information might be very usefully presented to the public in map form (see, for example, the maps of crime reports in Ottawa) other information may have serious privacy or security consequences if disclosed online and in map form.

 

Privacy and data protection laws in Canada do not offer a great deal of protection in this regard. While governments are bound by privacy legislation that protects against the disclosure of personal information in the context of access to information requests, a great deal of other government information is part of public registers. Individuals who disclose information on maps for personal, non-commercial purposes may be exempt from the application of national or provincial private sector data protection laws, and these laws also create exceptions for information that is collected, used or disclosed for “artistic, literary or journalistic purposes”. (I recently published a law journal article on this issue.)Thus, for example, a news outlet in Canada that did something comparable to the New York-based newspaper described above might well be insulated from recourse under data protection laws because of their “journalistic purposes” in doing so.

 

There is, of course, a tricky balance to be struck. Personal privacy and individual security are important values, but so are those served by open government (transparency, accountability) and by the freedom of expression. Indeed, the Supreme Court of Canada is expected to rule sometime in the coming year on the constitutionality of the exception for journalistic purposes in Alberta’s private sector data protection legislation. That decision may give us some guidance on the tricky balance between freedom of expression and the protection of privacy. In the meantime governments must continue to examine how best to achieve the goals of openness while at the same time protecting individual privacy and security.

Note: this piece was first published by me at:http://www.bloggingforequality.ca/2013/01/information-maps-freedom-of-expression.html

A recent decision of the Federal Court has caused a small stir over language that, taken at face value, would have a dramatic impact on trademark law in Canada. In Homeaway.com, Inc. v. Hrdlicka, Justice Hughes considered an application to have the respondents registered trademark VRBO, for vacation real estate listing services, expunged from the register. The applicant was the owner of the U.S. based website VRBO.com, which offers vacation real estate listings on a worldwide basis. The applicant argued that the respondent’s trademark registration was invalid as Hrdlicka was not the person entitled to register the mark in Canada.

 

The person entitled to register a trademark in Canada is the one who has first used it or made it known in this country. The “making known” provision of the Trade-marks Act is designed to protect well-known foreign trademarks from being registered by Canadian businesses with the likely consequence of creating confusion among Canadian consumers already familiar with the foreign mark. Unfortunately, as Justice Hughes noted in his decision, the “making known” provisions were drafted in the technological dark ages and specifically refer to marks that have been made known through the print or broadcast media. Notwithstanding this, there is still hope for a foreign trademark owner that has actually used its trademark in Canada; if they were the first to use the mark in this country, then they are the party entitled to register it.

 

The Trade-marks Act contains a definition of “use” that varies depending on whether the mark is registered for wares or services. In this case, the VRBO mark related to services. For a mark to be used in relation to services, it must be “used or displayed in the performance or advertising of those services.” (s. 4(2)) The VRBO mark appears on the VRBO website and in its URL. However, the case law also makes it clear that for there to be use in Canada, it is not sufficient for there to be advertising featuring the mark in Canada, the services must also be offered in Canada.

 

This is where the decision of the Federal Court has caused confusion and controversy. In discussing “use”, Justice Hughes makes the apparently bold statement that “a trade-mark which appears on a computer screen website in Canada, regardless where the information may have originated from or be stored, constitutes for Trade-marks Act purposes, use and advertising in Canada.” (at para 22) On the one hand, the statement offers nothing particularly surprising – it is not controversial to find that use on a website can constitute “advertising” for the purposes of determining use in relation to services under s. 4(2). However, the statement falls short in that it fails to clarify that this finding is limited to use in relation to services; a mark being featured on a web site is, on its own, not a use in relation to wares. Further, the statement appears to conflate the issue of whether featuring a mark on a website is advertising with the broader issue of whether a trademark has been used in Canada. As noted earlier, the person entitled to register the mark is the person who has first used the mark in Canada, and the case law is clear that for this to happen the services in question must not just be advertised in Canada – they must also be offered in Canada.

 

Although the statement taken at face value is controversial, the decision in the case is not particularly troubling. Indeed, Justice Hughes is aware of the importance of the services being offered in Canada, even though he does not refer to the relevant case law. He finds that HomeAway not only advertised its services in Canada, it entered into contracts with Canadians to list their vacation properties, and the site was used by Canadians to find vacation rental properties. It is just unfortunate that the rather elliptical way in which the decision was framed can lead to the impression that a trademark will be considered to be “used” in Canada simply by virtue of the fact that it can be seen on websites accessible to Canadians over the Internet. This is certainly not true in the case of wares, and is only true, in the case of services, if the services are also genuinely available to Canadians.

Monday, 07 January 2013 10:51

Copyright in Public Documents

Who owns copyright in documents created by private individuals for public purposes? This issue has been raised in at least two recent motions for certification of class action law suits for copyright infringement in the Ontario Superior Court.

The first of these, Waldman v. Thomson Reuters Corporation, resulted in the certification of a class action in February 2012. The plaintiff represents lawyers in private practice who object to the incorporation of court documents authored by lawyers into the defendant’s commercial databases without consent or compensation. The documents at issue include pleadings, notices of motions, affidavits and factums. All of these documents must be filed in court, and become part of a public record during the course of litigation. These court documents are already available to the public through different channels – for example, the public can obtain copies of documents in court records by visiting a court office and by paying the prescribed fees. Some documents are also now made available online by courts. The plaintiff in the class action suit in Waldman objected to the inclusion of these same documents in a commercial, for-profit service.

More recently, the Ontario Supreme Court has refused to certify a class action lawsuit brought by a land surveyor who objected to the inclusion of land survey documents in Ontario’s online land registry system Teranet. Copies of documents in Teranet are available to the public for a fee. The plaintiff in Keatley Surveying Ltd. v. Teranet Inc. argued that the survey documents were works in which copyright subsisted and their inclusion in the database without licence or compensation was a violation of those copyrights.

Both cases raise interesting issues regarding privately authored documents that are drafted as part of public processes, and that must necessarily be accessible to the public as a matter of public policy. Indeed, David Vaver has argued, in an article about the specific issue of copyright in legal documents, that in addition to the usual fair dealing exceptions in the Copyright Act, there may also be arguments around custom and public policy that permit copying without need for permission. Of course, this does not address the issue of whether a private company can commercialize access to the public documents without licence or compensation, and it will be interesting to see the outcome of the Waldman case.

The Keatley motion to certify was rejected by the court because it did not meet any of the criteria for certification of a class action. Among other things, the court was not convinced that there was an identifiable class of similarly affected individuals for the plaintiff to represent. This was because many prominent surveyors and land survey companies were involved in the design and creation of Teranet, and it was not clear whether any other surveyors in Ontario shared the plaintiff’s views on the copyright issues. Further, the court noted that membership in the proposed class would depend on the outcome of the litigation – the proposed class defined itsmembers as those who were holders of copyright in land survey documents, and one of the issues to be determined was whether land surveyors actually had copyright in their documents. If they did not, there could be no member of the class.

Nevertheless, there were some interesting issues raised in the lawsuit, and it is unfortunate that their consideration must be left to another day. For example, Teranet argued that if there is copyright in the land surveys, it lies with the provincial Crown. Crown copyright arises under s. 12 of the Copyright Act where a work is “prepared or published by or under the direction or control of Her Majesty or any government department”. Teranet argued that the provincial laws and regulations governing the creation and use of plans of survey amounted to direction or control over the creation of the works by the Crown. In the words of the court, “Legislation dictates the manner in which the survey is conducted, the content of the plan of survey, the form of the plan, and even details of the plan’s physical appearance, such as the type of paper used, the shape of the paper and the type of ink used.” (at para 102). If this type of direction or control can be said to give rise to Crown copyright, it might have interesting implications for a very broad range of other documents and data prepared under strict rules, standards or guidance – including, perhaps, some legal documents prepared for and submitted to courts.

Teranet also argued that Ontario’s Land Titles Act and the Registry Act both provide that deposited and registered plans are the “property of the Crown” and that this supports a finding of Crown copyright in the documents.. Of course, this same wording could easily be interpreted to refer to property rights in the physical document and not the underlying intangible intellectual property rights. Since copyright is a matter of federal jurisdiction and since s. 12 of the Copyright Act specifically addresses the circumstances in which Crown copyright arises, an interpretation of provincial legislation that creates a new basis for Crown copyright (the deposit and registration of documents) might take the legislation beyond the scope of provincial competence. Nevertheless, the court was of the view that “a compelling case can be made that copyright belongs to the Crown, based on s. 12 of the Copyright Act and the statutory regime that governs plans of survey”( at para 113), although it stopped short of actually drawing this conclusion. This is a complex and interesting question, and one with implications in many other contexts.

While Waldman will not answer these specific questions, it may provide some important insights on issues of fair dealing, custom and public policy (certainly, in the case of land surveys there has been a longstanding practice of providing copies to members of the public for a fee – even prior to the development of Teranet). These arguments, which provide a justification for the exercise by others of the exclusive rights of authors, seem far preferable to arguments that the state has expropriated these same rights through the creation of a registry system.

Thursday, 06 December 2012 10:25

Canada's New Draft Open Government Licence

The federal government has released a new proposed Open Government Licence – Canada (OGL-C) through its Open Data Portal. This licence agreement is not currently in effect; data available through the portal is still licensed under the existing Licence Agreement. The planned release of the OGL-C is in the spring of 2013.

The OGL-C has been a very long time in the drafting, and this draft is most welcome. The government is now seeking feedback on it – at the conclusion of the licence posted online is a fillable form that invites direct comments by the end of January 2013. The Licence Agreement currently in effect is also an open licence, but it suffers from excessive legalese. In contrast to other open licences it sets a tone that might make anyone feel that they should seek legal advice before using the government’s data sets. It contains language such as the following: “Intellectual Property Rights in any modification, translation or further development of the Data or in Value-Added Products made by you in the exercise of your rights under this Agreement, shall vest in you, in such person as you shall decide, or as determined by law.” It is hardly transparent and inviting language.

The proposed OGL-C is much more along the lines of Britain’s Open Government License (OGL), and indeed, the explanatory paragraphs that accompany the licence note that it is based upon this license. Interestingly enough, British Columbia also modified the British OGL, and has been using its modified version of this licence for some time now. The OGL-C and the BC-OGL are similar, but there a number of differences. Some of these are attributable to the distinct licensing parties, other differences may be due to a desire to further simplify the licence, and still others are difficult to understand.

There are several features of the OGL-C which deserve a second look before it becomes operational. First, “information” is defined in the licence as “information protected by copyright or by database right offered for use under the terms of this Licence” [emphasis added]. Since there is no database right in Canada, it makes no sense for this term to be included (it is also used in the definition of “Use”, where it refers to “doing any act which is restricted by copyright or database right”). The reference to database rights is found in the British OGL, since in that jurisdiction there are separate database rights. However, there is simply no reason why reference to rights that do not exist in Canada should be included in a licence meant to be simple, open and accessible. The BC-OGL, adapted to the Canadian context, refers only to copyright.

Like the BC-OGL licence, the OGL-C explicitly excludes any right to use personal information. Unlike the BC-OGL, however, the OGL-C uses the term “personal data” and provides no definition of this term. Since federal data protection laws (both PIPEDA and the Privacy Act) govern the collection, use and disclosure of “personal information”, it makes sense to use this term, rather than “personal data” (which is the British term, used in the British OGL). It should also be noted that the French version of the licence uses “renseignements personnels”, which is normally translated as “personal information” in the federal legislation. Further, it would be helpful to provide (as is the case in the BC-OGL) a definition of “personal information” as this is an important concept, and one which goes well beyond, for example, name and address information. This can be done by reference to the governing privacy statute (as is done in the BC-OGL and the British OGL), or it could also be done through the use of the common portion of most Canadian definitions of personal information: “information about an identifiable individual.”

The licence is also somewhat muddy in its use of two terms – “the Information Provider” and the “Licensor”. The BC OGL uses only “Information Provider” and defines this as Her Majesty the Queen in right of the Province of British Columbia. By contrast the British OGL uses the same structure as the OGL-C, and separately defines the Information Provider and the Licensor. However, the definition of Licensor in the British OGL is much more detailed. It is not clear that this complicated distinction needs to be carried through to the OGL-C. Indeed, the complexity of the British definition of “Licensor” is abandoned in the OGL-C, with the result that under the OGL-C, the “Information Provider” is defined as “the person or organization providing the Information under this Licence” and the “Licensor” is defined as “any Information Provider which has the authority to offer Information under the terms of this Licence”. Defined in this way, using two separate terms seems unnecessary and confusing. Further, there is no mention that the actual holder of copyright in government data or documents is Her Majesty the Queen in right of Canada, and that if any third party rights have been licensed to the Crown, Her Majesty will also be the one authorized to licence them further. What the double terminology seems to suggest instead is that Information Providers are Licensors only when they have the “authority” to license the information, presumably from Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada. This implies that there might be some rogue Information Providers who do not qualify as Licensors. It would be far simpler to adopt the structure used in the BC-OGL and simply acknowledge that where the information is provided by a department or agency of government, the Information Provider is acting on behalf of Her Majesty, and is entitled to licence the Crown copyright in the information. In other words, the legalistic term Licensor should be ditched in favour of Information Provider, and the Information Provider should be, ultimately, her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada.

These criticisms aside, the OGL-C is a marked improvement over previous attempts at drafting open licences for federal government data. The licence is meant to be simple and accessible, and is designed to encourage rather than stifle the re-use of government information. Its reliance on the British OGL shows a willingness not only to build on the experience of others, but also to develop a licence that will have some measure of interoperability with other open licences around the world. Let’s hope that the process remains on track, and that the revised licence will indeed be adopted for use by spring 2013.

 

Electronic Commerce and Internet Law in Canada, 2nd Edition, CCH Canadian Ltd., 2012 (with Michael Deturbide).

Electronic Commerce and Internet Law in Canada, 2nd Edition is a definitive resource on Internet and e-commerce law from Canada’s leading IT law experts, Teresa Scassa and Michael Deturbide.With a Foreword written by Justice Thomas Cromwell of the Supreme Court of Canada, this latest edition’s extensive coverage addresses the vast changes that have taken place in this dynamic and rapidly evolving field.Highlights in the new edition include:

* New Copyright Act amendments

* Trademark issues online

* Online contracting, including browse wrap agreements

* Personal information protection in the private sector

* Software and e-business patents

* Consumer protection online

* Canada's new anti-spam legistlation

* Online Anonymity

* Regulation of online speech

* Intermediary liability

* Web-based competition

* Internet domain names

* Jurisdictional issues

A foodie furore has erupted in Ottawa over the decision of Service Ontario to cancel the registration of the name “Union Local 613” for an Ottawa restaurant. The popular and well-reviewed restaurant has been in operation since July 2012 and its website indicates that the name was chosen to reflect a “Brotherhood of Cookers, Eaters & Drinkers”. The number 613 is the area code for the Ottawa region.

The decision by Service Ontario was made under the Business Names Act, which provides, in section 4(7) that the registrar of business names may cancel a registration where the name “does not comply with the prescribed requirements” of the legislation. These requirements are set out in the Restrictions Respecting Names. Article 4(7) of the regulations states that “A name shown in a registration must not use a word or expression that would suggest that the registrant is a form of organization that the registrant is not.” Clearly, the concern of the Registrar is that the reference to a union local might suggest to the public that the restaurant is run by or affiliated with a union. The owners of the restaurant have a right to appeal the decision of the Registrar to the Divisional Court.

The wording of the regulation is such that it is triggered where a name “would suggest” a different form of organization. This is not a confusion standard – the issue is not whether there is a likelihood that the public would be confused or misled into thinking that the restaurant is somehow associated with a particular union. Clearly, the uproar in the blogosphere regarding the province’s decision would suggest that actual and prospective patrons of this popular eatery are not at all confused. The restaurant’s website gives prominent place to its slogan “Brotherhood of Cookers, Eaters & Drinkers”, and for those who visit the restaurant or its website, the risk of confusion seems small. Yet with a much lower threshold for rejecting the name in the regulations – a mere suggestion – the chances of success on appeal may be small.

The principle served by article 4(7) is a legitimate one. To allow names that might lead members of the public to think they were dealing with charities, unions, non-profits, or other types of organizations when in fact they are not, could put the public at risk of potentially harmful deception. Yet in this case, any “suggestion” that the restaurant is somehow union affiliated seems utterly remote since the kinds of services offered by unions to their membership typically do not involve food. One cannot help but feel sympathy for the restaurant owners who have already built considerable goodwill in a name that was chosen specifically to evoke a spirit of foodie solidarity in the Ottawa region.

 

NOTE: October 25, 2012 - It is reported in the news that Service Ontario has decided to allow Union Local 613 to keep their name. Apparently, the fact that the name had initially been registered, and that the restaurant had already acquired substantial goodwill under that name, prompted a reconsideration. The media attention to the issue probably also played a role.

 

Volunteered geographic information (VGI) is a relatively recent and rapidly emerging phenomenon. In general terms, it involves the dissemination of geographic information, or of other information placed in geographic context, by individuals or groups of individuals. This would cover collaborative online mapping projects such as Wikimapia and OpenStreetMap, where individuals contribute geographical information to crowd-sourced maps. It would also cover a broad range of other types of user-generated map content. This can include the mapping of information by an individual or group of individuals (see, for example, the maps created by Patrick Cain), or the crowd-sourcing of information that is placed in a geographic context (consider, for example, the disaster maps created in the wake of the Fukishima nuclear disaster, or the earthquake in Haiti). While VGI projects may be led by amateurs, VGI is increasingly being considered as an important source of geographic information by private sector companies and by governments. For example, both TomTom and Google have found ways to incorporate geographic information supplied by users into their products, and governments are also considering ways in which VGI may be used to enhance existing maps or databases.

Volunteered geographic information may simply be raw geographic data (such as the co-ordinates of a point of interest). However, there is no limit to the kind of information that can be placed in geographic context. VGI may include geo-referenced photographs; it may also include text descriptions of places, objects or phenomena, audio or video content. It is a form of user-generated content (UGC) that is distinctive because the content is situated in relation to physical space. VGI shares other characteristics of the broader UGC phenomenon in that it is made possible by the broad accessibility of the tools and devices necessary to enable ordinary individuals without special skills or training to participate in the creation and dissemination of knew knowledge and content. Easily available tools such as the Google Maps application programming interface (API), or sites such as Tagzania.com or Wayfaring.com support the creation of maps by non-experts. Hand held GPS devices (now available on most smart phones) also give ordinary individuals powerful tools to record and transmit relatively precise geographic data.

Volunteered geographic information may be relied upon for a variety of reasons. As with other crowd-sourcing initiatives, VGI may offer an alternative to commercial products. In some cases, crowd-sourced maps may fill in gaps in the market, as where the mapping of a particular region or phenomenon is not a priority for commercial map publishers. Projects that place other types of information in geographic context can offer new ways of thinking about social, economic or political phenomena. Crowd-sourced disaster maps may offer real-time tools for dealing with rapidly developing events. In some cases, VGI initiatives offer a means of gathering information that might otherwise be too difficult or too costly to collect.

The legal and ethical issues raised by the VGI phenomenon are only now beginning to be explored. The mapping of VGI can raise a wide range of privacy issues. Further, as with many other types of UGC, intellectual property rights issues may frequently arise. Concerns have also been raised about the potential liability not just of those who publish or host VGI-based maps, but also of those who contribute data to such projects. In a recent article I explore identify and examine a number of these issues from the perspective of the host of VGI content, the supplier of VGI, and the user of VGI-based products or services.

I recently blogged for FreeSpeechDebate.Org about free speech, ambush marketing and the London Olympics. The posting is available here:

http://freespeechdebate.com/en/discuss/guilt-by-association-the-london-2012-olympics/

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Canadian Trademark Law

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