Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Chairman Vancise on the Courts and Copyright Policy in Canada

(Copyright Board of Canada)

The Chairman of the Copyright Board, Justice William Vancise, gave what has become his traditional annual speech to the Intellectual Property Instate of Canada's summer course on copyright held at McGill University on August 11, 2009. It has now been made available online here.

He had some interesting things to say about what he believes should be addressed in the next copyright bill:
First, we have to recognize that sometimes a strange brew of copyright, ubiquitous technology and traffic control creates real privacy issues. Copyright should not be the means by which control is exercised in the private sphere. Copyright should therefore continue to focus on professionals and on the public sphere.

Second, we will have to recognize market failures where they exist. Where they do, tough choices will have to be made. In some cases, the law will have to allow uses for free and copyright owners will have to live with it. In others, it will be possible to monetize copyright uses either voluntarily or through compulsory regimes. To do so, it may become necessary to impose liability on some participants in the chain of copyright consumption who currently enjoy immunity: just as it was possible to make the case that blank CD manufacturers should pay a levy for the copies of music made by those who use their CDs, it should be possible to make the case that Internet service providers should pay a levy for their clients’ use of copyrighted works.

Third, parliament will have to be consistent in the choices it makes. It may be politically expedient to monetize the use of music on the Internet but not to monetize the use of movies. To do one without the other makes no sense. It also makes no sense to impose a private copying levy on blank CDs but not on iPods: either you impose a levy on both, or you remove it from both. The removal of both would potentially mean the end of the private copying regime. It seems to me that only if parliament shows such consistency, will it be able to convince consumers and others that the law makes some sense.
He also had frankly unusual and unusually frank comments about the Supreme Court of Canada and Federal Court of Appeal. On the former, he says:
The Supreme Court is “doing” more copyright law than Parliament. One may ask: is this the Court’s domain? Fair minded persons may disagree on this. Professor Daniel Gervais, for one, argues that in effect, things are moving so fast in the copyright world that absent parliamentary action, the court feels it necessary to fill in the gaps. I might add, this is not unusual. Courts frequently move to fill vacuums when the legislators fail to act. Two notable examples are gay rights under Human Rights legislation and abortion in the field of criminal law.
On the Federal Court of Appeal, which reviews the Copyright Board, he says:
The Supreme Court is not the only court attempting to fill perceived gaps in the Copyright Act. The Federal Court of Appeal has attempted on at least two occasions to reconcile the wording of the Act with the contemporary reality (means of consuming protected works or objects of copyright).

In 2004, the Court ruled the Board was wrong to conclude that the permanently embedded or non-removable memory, incorporated into a digital audio recorder or the device itself, was “an audio recording medium ordinarily used by individuals to copy music”.

In 2007, CPCC tried again and the Board was asked to determine whether the recorder itself was a recording medium as defined in the Act. It said yes in a long and well reasoned decision. The Federal Court of Appeal, once again on judicial review, overturned the Board. This time, the Court in six turgid paragraphs found its decision of 2004 dealt with the matter and was binding on the Board. I still wonder how the Federal Court of Appeal came to that conclusion when the question of whether the device itself was subject to a levy had not even been an issue in the previous decision and the comments of Noel J.A. were obiter and contained in what can only be called a “throw away line.” A throw away line that has had extreme consequences, not the least of which is at least 10's of millions of dollars in royalties that have not been paid to authors, composers and performers and threatens to destroy the private copy regime.
(Full disclosure - I argued successfully against the Board’s view in both of these instances at the FCA).

I highly recommend reading the entire paper. Chairman Vancise also provides very brief summations of what he sees as the essential holdings of several recent Copyright Board decisions. It is unusual for a Canadian judge or tribunal Chair to be this explicit in stating his or her views on specific cases and policy issues. The Copyright Board, which he chairs, has great oversight power over almost half a billion dollars per annum worth of copyright tariff payments in Canada. Therefore, his views require attention from everyone interested in copyright law in Canada.


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