Meeting Mike Tyson does not constitute consideration for Canadian copyright assignment

By Richard Stobbe

When is a contract really a contract and when is it just a type of unenforceable promise that can be revoked or cancelled?

Glasz c. Choko, 2018 QCCS 5020 (CanLII) is a case about ownership of raw documentary footage of Mike Tyson, the well-known boxer, and whether an email exchange was enough to form a binding contract between a promoter and a filmmaker.

The idea of “consideration” is supposed to be one of the important elements of an enforceable contract. There must be something of value exchanging hands between two parties as part of a contract. But that “something of value” can take many forms. The old English cases talk about a mere peppercorn as sufficient consideration.

In this case, a boxing the promoter, Mr. Choko, promised a pair of filmmakers that he had a special relationship with Mike Tyson, and could give them special access to obtain behind-the-scenes footage of Mr. Tyson during his visit to Toronto in 2014. An email was exchanged on September 4, 2014, in which the filmmakers agreed that, in exchange for gaining this access, the copyright in the footage would be owned by the promoter, Mr. Choko.

The filmmakers later revoked their assignment.

The parties sued each other for ownership of the footage. Let’s unpack this dispute: the footage is an original cinematographic work within the meaning of section 2 of the Copyright ActThe issues are: Was the work produced in the course of employment? If not, was the copyright ownership to the footage assigned to Mr. Choko by virtue of the Sept. 4th email? And were the filmmakers entitled to cancel or revoke that assignment?

There was no employment relationship, that much was clear. And the filmmaker argued that the agreement was not an enforceable contract since there was a failure of consideration, and that the promoter misrepresented the facts when he insisted on owning the footage personally. In fact, he misrepresented how well he really knew the Tyson family, and mislead the filmmakers when he said that Mrs. Tyson has specifically requested that the promoter should be the owner of the footage. She made no such request.

The promoter, Mr. Choko, argued that these filmmakers would never had the chance to meet Mike Tyson without his introduction: thus, the experience of meeting Mr. Tyson should be enough to meet the requirement for “consideration” in exchange for the assignment of copyright. However, the court was not convinced: “every creative work can arguably be said to involve an experience…” If we accepted an “experience” as sufficient consideration then there would never be a need to remunerate the author for the assignment of copyright in his or her work, since there would always be an experience of some kind.

Take note: Meeting Mr. Tyson was insufficient consideration for the purposes of an assignment Canadian copyright law.

For advice on copyright issues, whether or not involving Mr. Tyson, please contact Richard Stobbe.

 

Calgary – 07:00 MDT

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