Thursday, September 13, 2007

Robertson decision explained, more or less

There's an interesting and entertaining (not to mention thought-provoking) essay in the current Literary Review of Canada (LRC) by Toronto freelancer Christopher Moore, parsing and pondering the recent Supreme Court of Canada decision in the class action case of Robertson vs. Thomson et al. Freelancer Heather Robertson launched the case more than a decade ago, seeking compensation for inclusion of her freelance pieces by the Globe and Mail's electronic databases.(See previous post for background.)

"Teenage Mutant Supreme Court Judges" will be of interest not just to copyright mavens (you know who you are) but anyone interested in the essential justice and fairness issues in the case.
Anyone who has ever fired up a web browser might assume that more culture, more information, more news and more entertainment are available today in more ways, faster and more easily than ever before, and mostly for the price of an internet connection. But for new IP law, the ease of access we take for granted is illusory. Big Copyright threatens to blight our lives and destroy culture forever, and the great task of new intellectual property (IP) law is to stand on guard for a threatened and embattled public domain on the verge of extinction.
Moore points out the many peculiarities of the way the case evolved and the way the judges approached the whole area of IP law. In particular, he notes that the case, which started out as a relatively simple matter of fair compensation, eventually ventured into such high falutin' issues as "What is a copy" and "What are the rights of public domain?".
Once the issue became Heather Robertson versus the public domain, however, or Heather Robertson’s need to get paid versus the judges’ elaborate calculations about “the true essence of the originality” of various copies, the results were less clear. Indeed, many arguments deployed by Thomson’s lawyers against the Robertson claims would apply as well against Thomson’s own copyrights. If a newspaper can appropriate all the profitable aspects of Robertson’s work every time it finds a new technology able to make a cheap and perfect copy, she had better find a new line of work. (Robertson has mostly worked as a book writer in recent years.) But if public interest justifies Thomson Corp.’s appropriation of writers’ copyright, it may also justify the public’s appropriation of Thomson’s copyrights.
[Thanks to the pwac website for alerting us to this.]

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