The CBC has filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against the Conservative Party over the use of clips on its Not As Advertised website and the use of debate clips on its Twitter feed. The lawsuit, filed yesterday in federal court, claims that a campaign video titled “Look at What We’ve Done” contained multiple excerpts from CBC programming in violation of copyright law. Moreover, the CBC also cites tweets that included short video clips of between 21 seconds and 42 seconds from the English-language leaders’ debate. The CBC argues that posting those clips on Twitter also constitutes copyright infringement.
The lawsuit appears to have an immediate effect. The video was moved to a private setting on YouTube on the day the lawsuit was filed and the tweets were deleted. The CBC is still seeking a declaration that the Conservatives violated the Copyright Act (including violating the moral rights of CBC journalists Rosemary Barton and John Paul Tasker) and an injunction barring the use of CBC material to infringe copyright.
The CBC argues that these uses constitute copyright infringement and do not qualify as fair dealing. Its claim is based on an odd collection of unconvincing arguments, including the notion that clips from the debate might lead someone to think that the CBC is biased, contrary to its obligations under the Broadcasting Act. The lawsuit notes that this is not the first time the CBC has claimed copyright infringement with Conservative ads, citing a 2015 claim.
The CBC obviously has rights as the copyright owner in its broadcast, but those rights are constrained by limitations and exceptions under the law that allow for use of its work without the need for further permission. The CBC itself (like all broadcasters) regularly relies upon those exceptions to use the work of others without permission. There are strong fair dealing arguments in favour reasonable usage. Moreover, the claim over short clips over debate footage is enormously troubling, considering both the importance of broad dissemination of the debate and the fact that the debate involves little specific contribution for any individual broadcaster. CBC has an unfortunate history of overzealous use of copyright to stifle freedom of expression and that approach appears to have reared its head yet again as the 2019 campaign hits the home stretch.