For much of the past two decades, copyright groups have steadfastly sought to deny what the Supreme Court of Canada has repeatedly endorsed, namely that the purpose of Canadian copyright law is to serve the public interest by balancing users’ and authors’ rights. Last week provided the latest episode in the ongoing series as the Court delivered yet another strong affirmation on the importance of copyright balance and the role of technological neutrality, confirming that “[c]opyright law does not exist solely for the benefit of authors.” The decision – SOCAN v. Entertainment Software Association – can read on at least four levels: (1) as a repudiation of SOCAN’s effort to establish a new, additional royalty for the “making available” of music; (2) as a confirmation of the importance of technological neutrality and copyright balance; (3) as an example of the flexibility associated with implementing the WIPO Internet treaties, and (4) as the undeniable entrenchment of Canadian copyright jurisprudence that now features deeply layered precedents on users’ rights.
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Supreme Court of Canada on Copyright: “Copyright Law Does Not Exist Solely for the Benefit of Authors”
The LawBytes Podcast, Episode 58: “An Earth Shattering Decision” – Marina Pavlovic on the Supreme Court of Canada’s Uber v. Heller Ruling
The Supreme Court of Canada recently released its much anticipated Uber Technologies v. Heller decision, a landmark ruling with significant implications for the validity of online contracts and for employment relations in the gig economy. The court rejected an arbitration clause in an Uber contract with its drivers, finding the clause unconscionable.
The decision unsurprisingly quickly caught the attention of many in the legal, technology, business, and consumer advocacy communities. Professor Marina Pavlovic is a friend and colleague at the University of Ottawa, who appeared before the Supreme Court representing the Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic as an intervener in the case. She joined me on the podcast to discuss the decision and to explain why she believes it is an earth shattering ruling for online contracts in Canada.
Policy makers have long struggled to strike a fair balance in crafting rules to address allegations of copyright infringement on the Internet. Copyright owners want to stop infringement and the right to pursue damages, Internet subscribers want their privacy and freedom of expression rights preserved in the face of unproven allegations, and Internet providers want to maintain their neutrality by resolving the disputes expeditiously and inexpensively.
My Globe and Mail op-ed notes that the Canadian system for online infringement was formally established in 2012 and came into effect in 2015. The so-called “notice-and-notice” approach grants rights holders the ability to send notifications of alleged infringement to Internet providers, who are required by law to forward the notices to the relevant subscriber and to preserve the data in the event of future legal action. The system does not prevent rights holders from pursuing additional legal remedies, but Internet providers cannot reveal the identity of their subscribers without a court order.
Last week, the Supreme Court of Canada heard arguments in a case that strikes at the heart of law in the online world. Google v. Equustek Solutions stems from claims by Equustek, a Canadian company, that another company used its trade secrets to create a competing product and engaged in misleading tactics to trick users into purchasing it.
After struggling to get the offending company’s website taken offline, Equustek obtained a British Columbia court order requiring Google to remove the site from its search index. Google voluntarily removed search results for the site from Google.ca search results, but was unwilling to block the sites from its worldwide index. The B.C. court affirmed that the order applied on an international basis, however, issuing what amounted to global takedown order.
The Supreme Court hearing, which attracted intervenors such as the Wikimedia Foundation, Electronic Frontier Foundation, as well as the music and movie industry associations, focused on issues such as the effectiveness of a Google-targeted order, where the responsibility for identifying conflicting laws should lie, and the fairness of bringing an innocent third-party such as Google into the legal fray.
My Globe and Mail opinion piece notes that largely missing from the discussion was an attempt to grapple with perhaps the biggest question raised by the case: In a seemingly borderless Internet, how do courts foster respect for legal rules and avoid vesting enormous power in the hands of Internet intermediaries who may ultimately find themselves picking and choosing among competing laws.