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Supreme Court of Canada Ruling on Crown Copyright

26 Sep 2019 12:34 PM | Michel-Adrien Sheppard (Administrator)

Earlier today, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) released its decision in the Keatley Surveying Ltd. v. Teranet Inc. case.

The case involved the idea of copyright owned by the Crown (essentially, the federal or provincial/territorial governments). Section 12 of the federal Copyright Act states that the Crown has copyright in what it prepares or publishes or where it directs or controls what someone else prepares or publishes.

According to the plain language Case in Brief summary prepared by the SCC:

"Ontario has an electronic land registry system. The land registry is a database about all properties in the province. It says who owns (or has other rights to) each one. The database contains many kinds of documents, including plans of survey (...)"

"The electronic land registry system is run by a company called Teranet, which helped create it. Teranet paid independent surveyors to help build the database and provide plans of survey. A regulation says that all plans added to the land registry become property of the Crown (that is, of the Ontario government). Surveyors bring plans of survey to the land registry office to be included. When they do, Teranet makes copies of the plans available electronically. Teranet does all of this on Ontario’s behalf."

"Keatley Surveying, a land survey company, launched a class action in 2007 (...) It said the surveyors (not the Crown) had copyright in the plans of survey they had created. It said Teranet was therefore infringing the land surveyors’ copyright by storing and copying plans of survey. It said the Crown should only get copyright in works that it created itself (or where it ordered or controlled creation by someone else). Teranet argued that the Crown should get copyright in everything it published. In 2016, a judge said Ontario owned the copyright and said Keatley Surveying’s class action couldn’t go forward. The Court of Appeal agreed."

"All the judges at the Supreme Court agreed that Ontario owned the copyright in the plans of survey."

The Canadian Association of Law Libraries (CALL) had intervener status in the case in front of the SCC.

This means that representatives of the Association got to argue in front of the Justices at the hearing in March 2019.

CALL's factum, which was highly critical of s.12 and of Crown copyright, is available on the SCC website.

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