My latest Law Bytes column (Toronto Star version, freely available hyperlinked version) brings together two Canadian copyright stories from last week that demonstrate the damage that can occur when copyright law goes awry.
The first is well known: the very disturbing Harry Potter court order which barred Canadians from reading the latest Harry Potter book before its authorized release. The order was used to compel innocent purchasers to return the book and to bar the Globe and Mail from publishing its book review since the publisher argued that the review was based on an "unlawful reading."
The second is less known: the attempt by a Manitoba school district to obtain the rights to use a photography of Paul Kane, a well-known Canadian painter during the 1800s. The National Gallery of Canada sought a significant sum for the public domain picture as well as control over how the photograph might be used.
The column notes that stories of this sort are not limited to Canada. As the Harry Potter and Manitoba events were unfolding, in the United Kingdom classical music producers criticized the BBC for offering free downloads of Beethoven symphonies, while in the United States, the Internet Archive, a remarkable resource of archived Internet content, was sued for copyright infringement.
Sadly, there is every indication that these cases represent only the tip of the iceberg in Canada. Bill C-60, the federal government's proposed copyright bill, envisions ever more limitations on the ability for individual Canadians to interact with their culture, while doing precious little to facilitate access in our libraries, schools and homes.
The Minister of Canadian Heritage or a judge on the British Columbia Supreme Court may be unwilling to stand up for cultural issues, but surely someone must be willing to do so. When copyright law is used to stop children from reading or learning about their cultural heritage, it is clear that something has gone wrong.