Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould’s department is refusing comment on its role in a social media campaign to discredit Federal Court litigants. Government attorneys had personal contact with an Ottawa blogger, Howard Knopf, who then published commentaries ridiculing copyright plaintiffs. The incidents follow admissions that government staff edited Blacklock’s Wikipedia page.
Blacklock’s has filed Copyright Act claims against 15 federal departments and agencies for knowingly sharing subscription passwords and copying thousands of works without payment or permission. Records show attorneys in Wilson-Raybould’s department discussed the cases with Knopf, who subsequently published a series of blog entries accusing Blacklock’s of unethical business practices.
“Is Blacklock’s a copyright troll?” Knopf wrote in one post, illustrated with a crude cartoon of a monster; “Speaking of alleged copyright trolls – ”.
Another blog entry was illustrated with a graphic image of what appeared to be a pile of coal or excrement. “If anyone becomes aware of any other Blacklock’s litigation or threatening letters, please feel free to let me know and pass along details, anonymously if you wish,” wrote Knopf; “Blacklock’s appears to have become one of the most ‘frequent flyers’, as it were, in Canadian copyright litigation.”
The blogger mentioned Blacklock’s 91 times in an 18-month period. Department of Justice records identified 273 pages of internal records citing Knopf. The department censored 172 pages of the Knopf file, claiming “personal information” or “solicitor-client privilege” under the Access To Information Act.
“Documents protected by solicitor-client privilege may have mentioned Mr. Knopf,” said Ian McLeod, spokesperson for Justice Canada. “It does not necessarily mean the excised correspondence was from, or to, him.”
McLeod refused comment when asked whether federal attorneys had ghostwritten or vetted the blog posts, or whether the Attorney General’s office sanctioned contacts with the blogger. Knopf did not comment, though he attended legal hearings and met privately with Justice Canada lawyers in courthouse consultation sessions on Blacklock’s litigation.
“The department does not engage in or orchestrate publicity campaigns to discredit litigants, whether in Federal Court or elsewhere,” said McLeod.
“Nothing Was Planted With Me”
Federal departments typically refuse comment on pending litigation as inappropriate. An Ontario Ministry of Justice policy states official comment on lawsuits should be avoided “where court proceedings are ongoing, and through all stages of appeal until the matter is completed.” The guide Canadian Legal Practice states: “It is good practice for a lawyer to avoid comment on the merits of any specific case until after it is finally determined and becomes a matter of public record.”
Knopf in other entries wrote that “Blacklock’s is so busy suing”; “Canadian taxpayers are no doubt going to pay a lot to monitor and participate, even passively, in this ‘litany of litigation’,” he wrote.
Knopf was earlier named as a source by the Globe & Mail in a 2015 article that accused Blacklock’s of “trolling in the courts”. James Bradshaw, Globe reporter who wrote the story, declined comment on his dealings with Knopf. “Nothing was planted with me,” said Bradshaw.
Knopf is former director of the Canadian Intellectual Property Institute at the University of Ottawa, and counsel with Macera & Jarzyna LLP of Ottawa.
The Department of Justice initially refused to release any records referring to Knopf without his personal consent, a breach of the Access To Information Act. The Office of the Information Commissioner today concluded its investigation with a finding that Justice Canada staff were mistaken in attempting to conceal all files.
Federal staff in 2016 admitted to using a Courts Administration Service computer to edit Blacklock’s Wikipedia page. The Service refused to name employees responsible for the breach of federal policy, or disclose findings of an internal investigation into the Wikipedia edits.