Gov’t Claims Right To Copy

The Department of Justice says federal employees may copy thousands of password-protected works without payment or permission in the name of research. Lawyers made the claim in response to Blacklock’s lawsuit against Health Canada for unauthorized copying of online content to more than 1,000 employees.

“There was no profit involved in the sharing of these articles,” wrote government attorneys in a statement of defence filed in Federal Court. “The articles were shared for a non-commercial research and review purpose. They were used fairly because the distribution of Blacklock’s material was limited to articles that specifically addressed the defendant’s work.”

Blacklock’s filed the copyright claim after discovering health department staff from 2013 through 2016 used its website to buy electronic passwords for $148 or $157, ignored a warning against distribution, then copied works numerous times without seeking permission or a licensing agreement. Health Canada’s lawyers described distribution as “limited”.

The statement of defence noted a single Blacklock’s subscription was intended for “media monitoring purposes”. Health Canada and its Public Health Agency at the time paid more than $289,000 a year for media monitoring including:

  • • $92,807 to The Canadian Press;
  • • $97,906 to MediaQ;
  • • $49,504 to Sentiment Metrics;
  • • $36,342 to Media Miser;
  • • $12,673 to J&A Media.

The department also charged millions in licensing fees on its own intellectual property sold to third parties. Licensing fees collected by Health Canada and the Public Health Agency totaled $6.7 million in the period from 2006 to 2016, according to an Inquiry Of Ministry tabled in the Commons. The department also vigorously enforced its own copyright, sending “a total of eight notices to third parties in respect of alleged infringements pertaining to copyright for non-commercial purposes,” said Inquiry.

Access To Information records obtained by Blacklock’s indicate Health Canada copied 119 news stories and made them available to 1,192 people. Department lawyers claimed distribution was 122 articles shared with 500 staff.

Legislators will conduct a statutory review of the Copyright Act this November, the first study of its kind since 2012. “Decisions of the Federal Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada continuously add to the legal and policy issues,” cabinet wrote in a 2017-18 Departmental Plan on copyright.

A Public Policy Forum review of media released January 26 urged that Parliament protect all publishers from wholesale copying of electronic content. “We recommend this review tighten the usage of copyrighted news material in favour of creators without unduly stifling the social power of sharing on the internet,” said the study The Shattered Mirror: News, Democracy & Trust In The Digital Age. “News producers have a right to benefit from their work for a reasonable period while pursuing the business strategy of their choice.”

“Whole works can be duplicated instantly,” said Digital Age; “In many cases, the issue arises when aggregators, bloggers or others use material without permission.”

The media study was subsidized with a $130,000 grant from the Department of Canadian Heritage.

By Staff

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