When the Supreme Court of Canada issued its SODRAC v. CBC decision last fall, critics warned that the decision may be anti-technology. The majority of the court ruling included a paragraph in which it suggested that users that invest in new technologies may be required to share some of the benefits with copyright holders:
Where the user of one technology derives greater value from the use of reproductions of copyright protected work than another user using reproductions of the copyright protected work in a different technology, technological neutrality will imply that the copyright holder should be entitled to a larger royalty from the user who obtains such greater value. Simply put, it would not be technologically neutral to treat these two technologies as if they were deriving the same value from the reproductions.
The danger with the decision should be immediately obvious as it creates disincentives to invest in new technologies. I argued in a post on the decision:
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The Supreme Court of Canada issued its long-awaited decision in SODRAC v. CBC today, a case that has major implications for the role of technological neutrality in copyright. As I noted when it was argued before the court, though the case was about whether CBC should be required to pay royalties for incidental copies necessary to use new broadcast technologies, at stake was something far bigger: the future of technological neutrality under Canadian copyright law. The case offers wins and losses for both users and creators, but the manner in which the court strongly affirmed the principle of technological neutrality runs the risk of actually undermining technological adoption.
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The Supreme Court of Canada heard arguments yesterday in the copyright case of CBC v. SODRAC. While the case was ultimately about whether CBC should be required to pay royalties for incidental copies necessary to use new broadcast technologies, at stake was something far bigger: the future of technological neutrality under Canadian copyright law.
CBC argued that technological neutrality means that it should not pay for incidental copies since it already pays for the use of music in broadcasts. The incidental copies – copies which are made to create the final broadcast version of a program (including copies from the master to a content management system or other internal copies to facilitate the broadcast) – do not generate revenue and are simply made to facilitate use of the music that is paid for through a licence. SODRAC, a Quebec-based copyright collective, countered that CBC had always paid for these copies and that the CBC argument was the reverse of technological neutrality, since it wanted to avoid payment in the digital world for copies that were being paid for with earlier, analog technologies.
The case emerged as an important one when the question of the meaning of technological neutrality took centre stage. That elicited interveners such as Music Canada, which argued for a narrow interpretation of the principle, claiming that it was just an “interpretative metaphor” (similar arguments about users’ rights being no more than a metaphor were rejected by the Supreme Court in 2012). The danger in the case from a technological neutrality perspective is that the Supreme Court could roll back its finding that technological neutrality is a foundational principle within the law. Moreover, if the court were to rule that all copies – no matter how incidental – are copies for the purposes of the Copyright Act, there would be the very real possibility of payment demands for the myriad of copies that occur through modern technologies.
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Last month, the University of Ottawa Press published The Copyright Pentalogy: How the Supreme Court of Canada Shook the Foundations of Canadian Copyright Law, an effort by many of Canada’s leading copyright scholars to begin the process of examining the long-term implications of the copyright pentalogy. As I’ve noted in previous posts, the book is available for purchase and is also available as a free download under a Creative Commons licence. The book can be downloaded in its entirety or each of the 14 chapters can be downloaded individually.
The book includes two articles on technological neutrality, whose inclusion as a foundational principle of Canadian copyright was a landmark aspect of the copyright pentalogy. The message from the Court is clear: copyright law should not stand in the way of technological progress and potentially impede the opportunities for greater access afforded by the Internet through the imposition of additional fees or restrictive rules that create extra user costs. Viewed in this light, technological neutrality as a principle within Canadian copyright may have the same dramatic effects on the law as the articulation of users’ rights did in 2004.
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I have posted several pieces on the recent Supreme Court of Canada copyright decisions (an immediate overview
, a piece
on why Canada has shifted to fair use, an analysis
of the inclusion of a technological neutrality principle, and a discussion
on the implication for Access Copyright). My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version
, homepage version
) also focused on the decision. It noted that copyright cases only reach the Supreme Court of Canada once every few years, ensuring that each case is carefully parsed and analyzed. Last week, the court issued rulings on five copyright cases in a single day, an unprecedented tally that will keep copyright experts busy for many months to come.
While the initial coverage unsurprisingly focused on the specific outcomes for the litigants, including wins for Apple (no fees for song previews on services such as iTunes), the entertainment software industry (no additional payment for music included in downloaded video games), and the education community (copying materials for instructional purposes may qualify as fair dealing), the bigger story are three broad principles that lie at the heart of the court’s decisions.
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