Gervais and Craig on Copyright

The recent issue of the University of Ottawa Law and Technology Journal has two articles on copyright by Canadian scholars: “The Purpose of Copyright Law in Canada,” by Ottawa’s Daniel Gervais, and “The Evolution of Originality in Canadian Copyright Law: Authorship, Reward and the Public Interest” by my colleague at Osgoode, Carys Craig. Both articles are available online in PDF format. The abstracts follow:

In three recent cases, the Supreme Court of Canada provided several pieces of the Canadian copyright policy puzzle. We now know that the economic purpose of copyright law is instrumentalist in nature, namely, to ensure the orderly production and distribution of, and access to, works of art and intellect. The Court added that copyright can not enter carelessly into the private sphere of individual users. By targeting end-users in recent lawsuits, copyright holders have also found out that it is difficult to enforce a right that has not been properly internalized. After reviewing the Supreme Court trilogy of cases, the paper explores the importance of the moral imperative and the almost nonexistent role of Parliament in setting policy at the macro level. In Part 3, the paper proposes two concrete ways to align copyright law with its underlying purpose, especially on the internet. The first is to make existing rights easier to manage by facilitating collective management using the Extended Repertoire (or extended collective licensing system). A compatibility analysis with applicable international norms is provided. The second is a recasting of the copyright rights based on the effect of the use made of the work, not its technical nature.


Originality is a foundational concept in copyright law: it defines the works to which copyright attaches and delineates the scope of protection they receive. The Supreme Court of Canada, in its recent ruling in CCH Canadian Ltd. v. Law Society of Upper Canada, appears to have settled the conflict between creativity and sweat-of-the-brow standards for originality, espousing a compromise position requiring “skill and judgment.” In this paper, the author aims to locate the evolution of the originality doctrine within the context of a foundational shift in Canadian copyright theory. When “benefiting authors” was copyright’s only recognized purpose, originality was determined with reference to the author’s rights: the emergence of a creativity threshold in Canada was infused with a personality-based vision of the author’s rights; the industriousness threshold was informed by a perceived need to reward an author’s labour. However, the Supreme Court in Théberge v. Galerie d’Art du Petit Champlain insisted that furthering the public interest in the production and dissemination of intellectual works is also a primary purpose of copyright. The CCH decision at the Supreme Court represents the first occasion on which a Canadian court has taken the public interest side of the copyright “balance” seriously when defining and applying the originality standard. The author argues that this elevation of public interest considerations provides a more suitable framework for developing copyright policy, particularly in the “information age.” However, given the case-by-case nature of originality determinations and the tensions inherent in the Théberge balancing act, the author cautions that the actual consequences of this development remain to be seen.

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