The City of Duncan, British Columbia is a relatively small town of about 5,000 located on Vancouver Island. With 80 totems scattered throughout city, Duncan bills itself as the City of Totems. Duncan has begun to generate some press coverage for adopting a new Totem Copyright Policy which apparently states that the City "holds the copyright policy on the totem collection" and that "the use of the totem images in any form requires approval from the City of Duncan."
As a matter of copyright law, this is seemingly wrong as there is no infringement of copyright for taking pictures of movies of a public sculpture or artistic work. Section 32.2(1)(b) of the Copyright Act provides that:
it is not an infringement of copyright for any person to reproduce, in a painting, drawing, engraving, photograph or cinematographic work a sculpture or work of artistic craftmanship. . . that is permanently situated in a public place of building.
Moreover, the City's claims raise further questions about whether it owns the copyright in the totems.
Assuming these are older totems, they may be well be part of the public domain. Moreover, the City may have inadvertently jumped into the issue of traditional knowledge, an area that the government has for years targeted for copyright reform but has done little to actually address. Perhaps that will change as a Canadian city makes overbroad copyright claims just a new Industry Minister arrives from the Indian Affairs portfolio.