Archive for September, 2018

#Illegal #Infringement : Defamation & Social Media

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By Richard Stobbe

Can a hashtag constitute defamation?

In an Ontario case involving a music collaboration gone wrong, the answer apparently is yes. The dispute involved Mr. Johnson, who was allegedly a songwriter and music producer. Ms. Rakhmanova was also a song writer and signer. The two musicians collaborated on several tracks which were later the subject of a bitter dispute.

According to the judgement, Mr. Johnson released the tracks online, over the objections of Ms. Rakhmanova. At one point, after the songs were mixed and mastered, Ms. Rakhmanova requested that Mr. Johnson sign a recording contract, to memorialize the joint-authorship and ownership of the tracks, including equal publishing credit. Mr. Johnson refused to sign the contract since, according to the judgement, he intended to claim sole ownership over the three songs. Ms. Rakhmanova withdrew her consent to the release of her melodies and vocal tracks.  By then, however, the track had already been released online.  Mr. Johnson failed to properly account for any revenue or royalties, and did not include proper attribution of Ms. Rakhmanova’s contributions: her picture and name were omitted from certain track names.

Ms. Rakhmanova then launched a series of online communications – through emails, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram accounts and SoundCloud posts – demanding removal of the content, and generally calling out Mr. Johnson for his conduct that, in her view, could be described as “…#stealing“, “infringing of my copyright“, “#piracy” “#plagiarism“, “#Infringement“, “#Illegal“, and characterizing Mr. Johnson as akin to “con artists who shamelessly peddle stolen acappellas“…

In Johnson v. Rakhmanova, 2018 ONSC 5258 (CanLII), the Court reviewed a defamation claim by Mr. Johnson, based on comments of this type. Interestingly, the Court flagged the defamatory elements in the various extracts, specifically highlighting certain hashtags such as “#piracy” “#plagiarism”, “#Infringement”, “#Illegal”. While none of the social media posts consisted of only hashtags (there was always more content included in the post), it is worth noting that, for certain posts, the judge highlighted the hashtag alone as constituting the only defamatory element. This suggests that, in the right context, a well-placed hashtag can constitute a defamatory statement.

A finding of defamation raises a presumption that the words complained of were false, that they were communicated with malice and that the plaintiff suffered damage.  That presumption of falsity is rebutted by the defendant proving truth or justification.  In the end, the Court took the view that most of these defamatory statements were accurate and truthful and therefore justified. And therefore not defamatory. The court dismissed Mr. Johnson’s defamation claim in any event, and awarded costs to Ms. Rakhmanova.

 

Calgary -7:00 MST

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Enforcing Rights Online: Copyright Infringement & “Norwich Orders”

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By Richard Stobbe

When a copyright owner seeks to enforce against online copyright infringement, it often faces a problem: who is engaging in the infringing activity?  If the old adage holds true – on the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog – then the corollary is that there must be a lot of canines engaged in online copyright infringement.

Of course a copyright owner can only enforce its rights against online infringement if it knows the identity of the infringer.  The Canadian solution, which is enshrined in the Copyright Act,  is the so-called “notice-and-notice” regime, which allows a copyright holder to send a notice to the ISP (internet service provider), and the ISP is obliged by the Copyright Act to send that notice to the alleged infringer, who still remains anonymous.  The notice of infringement is passed along… but the infringing content remains online.  Since the “notice-and-notice” regime is not much of an enforcement tool, the path eventually leads copyright holders to seek a court order (called a Norwich order) to disclose the identity of those alleged infringers.  (See our previous articles about Norwich Orders for background.)

In Rogers Communications Inc. v. Voltage Pictures, LLC, 2018 SCC 38, a film production company (Voltage) alleged copyright infringement by certain anonymous internet users. Allegedly, films were being shared using peer-to-peer file sharing networks. Yes, apparently peer-to-peer file sharing networks are still a thing. Voltage sued one anonymous alleged infringer and brought a motion for a Norwich order to compel the ISP (Rogers) to disclose the identity of the infringer.

Now we get to a practical problem: who pays for the disclosure of these records?

Pointing to sections 41.25  and 41.26  of the Copyright Act, Voltage argued that the disclosure order be made without anything payable to Rogers. In essence, Voltage argued that the “notice and notice” regime does two things: it creates a statutory obligation to forward the notice of claimed infringement to the anonymous infringer. The Act also prohibit ISPs from charging a fee for complying with these “notice-and-notice” obligations. In response, Rogers argued that there is a distinction between sending the notice to the anonymous infringer (for which it cannot charge a fee) and disclosing the identity of that (alleged) infringer pursuant to a Norwich order. The Act does not specify that ISPs are prohibited from charging a fee for this step.

The Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) agreed that there is a distinction to be made: on the one hand, an ISP has obligations under the Copyright Act  to ensure the accuracy of its records for the purposes of the notice and notice regime, and on the other hand, an ISP may be obliged, under a Norwich order to actually identify a person from its records. In a nutshell, the court reasoned that ISPs must retain records under the Act, in a form and manner that permits an ISP to identify the name and address of the person to whom notice is forwarded for the “notice-and-notice” purposes. But the Act does not require that these records be kept in a form and manner which would permit a copyright owner or a court to identify that person.  The copyright owner would only be entitled to receive that kind of information from an ISP under the terms of a Norwich order. The Norwich order is a process that falls outside the ISP’s obligations under the notice and notice regime. In the end, an ISP can recover its costs of compliance with a Norwich order, but ISPs cannot be compensated for every cost that it incurs in complying with such an order:

Recoverable costs must be reasonable and must arise from compliance with the Norwich order. Where costs should have been borne by an ISP in performing its statutory obligations under the notice and notice regime, these costs cannot be characterized as either reasonable or as arising from compliance with a Norwich order, and cannot be recovered.

According to Rogers, there are eight steps in its process to disclose the identity of one of its subscribers in response to a Norwich order.  The SCC made reference to this eight-step process, but wasn’t in a position to decide which of these steps overlap with Rogers’ obligations under the Act (for which Rogers was not entitled to reimbursement) and the steps which are “reasonable costs of compliance” (for which Rogers was entitled to reimbursement). The question was returned to the lower court for determination.

For copyright owners, its clear that ISPs will not shoulder the entire cost of disclosing the identity of subscribers at the Norwich stage. How much of that cost will have to borne by copyright holders is, unfortunately, still not very clear.  For ISPs, this decision is a mixed bag – Rogers makes a solid argument that the costs of compliance with Norwich orders are relatively high, compared with the automated notice-and-notice procedures. While it will benefit ISPs to be able to charge some of these fees to the copyright owner, we don’t have clear guidance on the specifics.  The matter will have to be determined on a case-by-case basis, depending on the ISP and their own internal procedures.

Looking for advice on Norwich orders and enforcement against online copyright infringement? Look for experienced counsel to guide you through this process.

 

Calgary – 7:00 MST

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AI and Copyright and Art

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By Richard Stobbe

At the intersection of this Venn diagram  [ Artificial Intelligence + Copyright + Art ] lies the work of a Paris-based collective.

Obvious

By means of an AI algorithm, these artists have generated a series of portraits that have caught the attention of the art world, mainly because Christie’s, the auction house,  has agreed to place these works of art on the auction block. Christie’s markets themselves as “the first auction house to offer a work of art created by an algorithm”.  The series of portraits is notionally “signed” (𝒎𝒊𝒏 𝑮 𝒎𝒂𝒙 𝑫 𝔼𝒙 [𝒍𝒐𝒈 𝑫 (𝒙))] + 𝔼𝒛 [𝒍𝒐𝒈(𝟏 − 𝑫(𝑮(𝒛)))]), denoting the algorithm as the author.

We have an AI engine that was programmed to analyze a range of prior works of art and create a new work of art. So where does this leave copyright? Clearly, the computer software that generated the artwork was authored by a human; whereas the final portrait (if it can be called that) was generated by the software.  Can a work created by software enjoy copyright protection?

While Canadian courts have not yet tackled this question, the US Copyright Office in its Compendium of US Copyright Office Practices has made it clear that copyright requires human authorship: “…when a work is created with a computer program, any elements of the work that are generated solely by the program are not registerable…”

This is reminiscent of the famous “Monkey Selfie” case that made headlines a few years ago, where the Copyright Office came to the same conclusion: without a human author, there’s no copyright.

Calgary – 0:700 MST

Photo Credit: Obvious Art

 

 

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