Meera Nair

copyright and religion; a contentious mixture

In Posts on June 14, 2015 at 6:20 am

Discussions of copyright and religion are fraught with risk for the same reason; that it is extremely difficult to find middle ground.

Two weeks ago, an article in the Huffington Post raised what, on the surface, looks like a clear-cut demonstration of violation of intellectual property rights. But, as is often the case with these rights, careful reading brings to light a more complex matter.

The article, published on 6 June 2016, concerns the work of Vancouver photographer, Dina Goldstein. Although the Huffington Post indicates that Goldstein is seeking damages from a foreign newspaper for its use of her work, the article does not identify which body of law is relevant to Goldstein’s claim. Goldstein is entitled to be offended by the criticism levied at her; however, it is open to debate as to whether any laws were broken at all.

Images from Goldstein’s collection Fallen Princesses were used to support an argument from the Irish Catholic newspaper Alive!, of the need for families to raise children with hope. Specifically, the hope that arises from the Christian faith: “The sure hope of heaven gives us a joy here and now that even suffering cannot undermine. The fairy tales have it right.” The Huffington Post quotes Goldstein as saying:

My photograph … was deliberately manipulated into forming a criticism about parents who do not promote religion within the household. This sentiment is seething with the classic Catholic guilt trip I reject … In fact, this argument is completely opposed to my own way of raising a family, without religion.

In the same article, Goldstein acknowledges that her “socially critical work is ‘meant to attract discourse.'” However, the photographer objected “to the newspaper’s cover displaying neither a credit to her, nor an indication there’s a relevant story inside.”

DINA-GOLDSTEIN-IRISH-NEWSPAPERCloser examination of both the Alive! cover and the accompanying article do not easily support these remarks. It is true that the Alive! cover does not make mention of Goldstein by name, but there is a reference to an article in the lower right hand corner: “Being a child of parents with no faith is tough, see page 7.”

On page seven, the article begins with: “Photographer Dina Goldstein … .” The article deals with Goldstein’s work in depth, detailing highlights of the collection and Goldstein’s philosophy about the collection. In terms of crediting a creator, or invoking a creator’s work to a specific cause, these are matters of moral rights which serve to protect the personal connection between art and artist. As most readers know, the scope of protection varies. However, among observing countries, the right of attribution (acknowledging the creator) and integrity (treating the work with respect) are common. Ireland observes both (so too does Canada).

But the immediate question is whether moral rights prescribe a specific placement of attribution? Irish law is silent as to how attribution should be carried out. Known as the paternity right in their Copyright and Related Rights Act, Chapter 7 – Section 107 states: “ … the author shall have the right to be identified as the author and that right shall also apply in relation to an adaptation of the work.” Thus it is plausible that crediting Goldstein through the article would serve as observant of moral rights under Irish law.

[As an aside, the Copyright Act of Canada is slightly more detailed in its language of moral rights: “The author of a work has …  the right to the integrity of the work and, …  where reasonable in the circumstances, to be associated with the work as its author by name or under a pseudonym and the right to remain anonymous.” But the caveat of “where reasonable in the circumstances” also allows for the possibility that the attribution might not be placed according to the creator’s wishes.]

On the matter of the integrity of the work, Irish law is quite intriguing. Chapter 7 – Section 108 states: “… the author of the work shall have the right to object to any distortion, mutilation, or other modification of, or derogatory action in relation to, the work which would prejudice his or her reputation …” (emphasis mine). The two photographs of Goldstein’s, portrayed by Alive!, were not distorted, mutilated or modified. The representation is faithful to Goldstein’s original images. But we should consider the possibility that featuring Goldstein’s work in the newspaper, is a “derogatory action … which would prejudice his or her reputation.”

The Alive! article quotes Goldstein as saying: “I am a fierce realist so I wanted the princesses to be in real life situations with problems of their own.” The article further quotes Goldstein as “raging against the happily-ever-after motif” spoon-fed to the young. Neither quotation is attributed to any particular press interview or article, but Goldstein’s website contains an extensive collection of material so it is plausible that these quotations are accurate. Alive! uses Goldstein’s work and her remarks as a background to advance their own argument; that believing in “happily ever after” is a fundamental belief, and a worthwhile one, in the Christian tradition.

At this stage, a claim based upon moral rights infringement looks less robust; rather than a violation of moral rights, the use of the images melds well with fair dealing. In Ireland, like Canada, criticism and review are protected purposes if the creator receives sufficient acknowledgement (see Chapter 6 – Section 51). It would not be possible to convey the force of Goldstein’s work, without showing some of the work. Where Alive! may have erred, is to speculate that Goldstein’s work is deliberately an attack on Christianity and a style of parenting. From the article:

But is [Goldstein] raging against the Christian message of hope in the fairy stories or against the culture of despair which has infiltrated both society and her own life? She seems to think we should stop telling children stories with happy endings. That kids need to realize that real life stories don’t end that way.

Alive! continues in this vein, about people who have lost sight of God, emphasizing that “hope and happiness, not despair, are the realistic attitude to life.”

Goldstein has not been shy about voicing her views on religion; but she has also articulated that her work is art, not a parenting manual. In 2009, when Fallen Princesses was unveiled, Cheryl Rossi, writing for Vancouver Courier, states:

Her Fallen Princesses photos aren’t meant for kids, Goldstein says, and she’s not shielding her daughter, now four, from Disney. “I don’t want to ruin her bubble,” she said. “She’ll learn that life is complicated and tough eventually.”

In a more recent interview Goldstein states that she would not deprive her young daughters of the enjoyment of Disney productions or merchandise, emphasizing that children are too young to understand the concepts behind Goldstein’s imagery. Goldstein is unequivocal: “These images are made for adults.”

So is there a legitimate complaint here, and if so, what is it? Was the photograph unfairly used in a manner that is derogatory to Goldstein’s reputation? Have the musings of Alive! cast aspersions to Goldstein’s character? Or, was the condemnation of Goldstein’s work merely criticism? Criticism that necessarily required explanation and therefore invocation of Goldstein’s work?

And if there is a complaint, is there an avenue of redress for Goldstein? I am unfamiliar with the sturdiness of Ireland’s regimes of fair dealing, moral rights and defamation; if an Irish reader would like to comment, please do.

On a different note, Goldstein’s work is phenomenal. In an interview with Fanny Kiefer, Goldstein remarks: “… [the] characters are symbols, to convey a scenario.” Fallen Princesses is dramatic and touches a chord by the recasting of familiar characters among the all-too-real feelings of desperation that pervade life. The rude-awakening that marriage can be, the trauma of cancer, and other realities, are conveyed masterfully.

With my bent for maintaining copyright as a set of limited rights (as it has been for 305 years), the best part of Goldstein’s work is this: no reprisals from the Disney Corporation. When questioned by Kiefer as to whether Goldstein had sought permission from Disney, and did Disney call upon publication of the pictures, the answer to both questions was No.

Nor should there have been any reason for Disney involvement. But the persona of Disney and its ironclad grip upon its characters is legendary to the point of discouraging putative artists and even well-heeled lawyers from using Disney materials. Goldstein’s story is a happily-ever-after of an entirely different nature.

a lesson from the Copyright Board

In Posts on May 31, 2015 at 7:35 am

On 22 May 2015 the Copyright Board released its decision concerning tariff rates for copying carried out in provincial and territorial governments (excluding that of the Province of Quebec). The rates set by the Board fell far short of what Access Copyright had requested; some commentaries indicate that the returns would not cover the costs of the tariff proceedings.

The Board came to its decision via a number of factors, including: (i) scrutinizing Access Copyright’s claim of the extent of both its repertoire and business relations; (ii) deferring appropriately to fair dealing, given the integral nature of the exception within the system of copyright; and (iii) being mindful that copyright only applies when a substantial part of a work has been reproduced.

For commentary, see Michael Geist (here and here), Howard Knopf (here and here), Bob Tarantino (here) and Bobby Glushko (here). To which I add my own. The decision underlines that institutional systems of fair dealing, which includes assessment of substantiality (the threshold of copyright), remain contextual affairs. This lesson is not transparently evident, but it is there.

Copyright owners receive their rights through Section 3.1 of the Copyright Act: “For the purposes of this Act, “copyright”, in relation to a work, means the sole right to produce or reproduce the work or any substantial part thereof in any material form whatever … .” Thus, if the reproduction is insubstantial then copyright does not arise.  This was explicitly stated in CCH Canadian (2004); as Tarantino writes : “… the Supreme Court of Canada [indicates] in its discussion of fair dealing, that where “the amount taken from a work is trivial, the fair dealing analysis need not be undertaken at all because the court will have concluded that there was no copyright infringement.”

But as Tarantino (and the Copyright Board) remind us, the Supreme Court has also indicated, via Robinson v Cinar (2013), that substantiality is “a flexible notion … a matter of fact and degree”, to be decided “by its quality rather than its quantity.”

In its discussion about substantiality, the Board concluded that: “… without the benefit of a qualitative analysis and without even knowing which portions of a work were copied, … 1 to 2 pages of a work [to a maximum of 2.5% of the entire work] are a reasonable approximation in establishing non-substantiality (para. 204).” This measure has been greeted with enthusiasm but it is imperative that educational institutions not sleep walk into creating a de facto ceiling to insubstantiality. It bears emphasizing that the Board has contextualized its own remarks; this measure is appropriate when little or no information is available about the copying.

In terms of institutional practices–where post-secondary communities have endeavoured to develop resources and engage personnel, all to assist faculty in their understanding of appropriate uses of copyrighted material–it is viable to apply a qualitative assessment and allow for the possibility of copying more.

In Intellectual Property (2011), David Vaver makes a valuable point in connection to assessment of substantiality: “One should first screen out what cannot in law be a substantial part. ‘Part’ means ‘portion’ not ‘particle.’ … Copying ten such particles is as inoffensive as copying one (p.182-183).” As is often quoted, but appears not to receive sufficient consideration, facts are not eligible for copyright. Furthermore, processes are unlikely to meet the threshold of originality to be granted copyright. (Arguably, it is ill-advised to be creative when teaching students a process.) It is then likely that in fields of natural science, life science, mathematics and computer science, the threshold of substantiality may be higher. Even in fields typically considered to be more creative, it remains possible that a taking of more than 2.5% will not contravene substantiality when the qualitative analysis is undertaken.

The Copyright Board’s statement should be read in the same spirit as the Fair Dealing Guidelines developed by the Association of Universities and Colleges Canada (AUCC) and Colleges and Institutes Canada (CIC). Those instructions are baselines supporting legitimate unauthorized copying and more copying is always a possibility when individuals are suitably informed, or have access to informed support. It is the combination of baseline rules and discretionary support that constitute an institutional practice of fair dealing.

The Board takes note of the Supreme Court’s measured approach to unauthorized copying in institutional settings:

In CCH, the Supreme Court of Canada stated that fair dealing can be made out either by demonstrating that there exists a general practice that is based upon an enumerated fair-dealing purpose, and, is in fact, fair, or by demonstrating that a particular copying event … was fair dealing (para. 223, citing para. 63 of CCH Canadian).

It was the lack of a robust practice on the part of the provincial and territorial governments involved in the tariff negotiations that resulted in the Board’s scrupulous attention to every incident of copying in the evidentiary sample collected in agreement with Access Copyright and the governments (paras. 223-225).

Generally speaking, post-secondary educational practices in Canada are closely modeled upon the Great Library Access Policy that was at issue in CCH Canadian. Meaning, the policy prescribes minimums, with copying beyond the minimum contingent upon informed discussion. But informed discussion itself can unwittingly be curtailed. Fortunately, the Board reminds institutions to avoid slavish attention to rules to the extent of diminishing the contextual nature of fair dealing. As readers likely know, in CCH Canadian, the Supreme Court followed six factors with which to explore the fair dealing issue at hand; the Board emphasizes that these factors themselves must not become rigid: “… the list of factors … is not an exhaustive list, and fairness is a matter of impression.” The Board continues with a quotation from the work of Giuseppina D’Agostino:

[p]arties pleading fair dealing, and courts ultimately deciding those events, should exercise flexibility when interpreting fair dealing: raise factors germane to the case and assess evidence to support them. Whether there are six factors, seven factors, or four factors should not be the driving preoccupation … (para. 267 citing p. 197 of  The Copyright Pentalogy).

A timely reminder as the post-secondary community moves forward with solidifying their institutional systems of fair dealing.

Feb 23-27, celebrating fair dealing

In Posts on February 19, 2015 at 9:23 pm

February 23-27 marks Fair Use Week in the United States, and thus by association, Fair Dealing Week for other jurisdictions. The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is promoting a community celebration of these limits upon copyright that enable the system of copyright to live up to its mandate to promote creativity, advance knowledge and bolster innovation, and reap just rewards not only for the creators involved but for the creators yet to come as well. ARL pays particular attention to Canada: “… in Canada, fair dealing is a critical right of the user intended to facilitate balance in copyright law and accommodate freedom of expression.”

Readers may remember that user rights gained prominence in Canada in 2004, via CCH Canadian. Writing for the Supreme Court of Canada, in a decision supported with unanimity, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin states:

The fair dealing exception, like other exceptions in the Copyright Act, is a user’s right. In order to maintain the proper balance between the rights of a copyright owner and users’ interests, it must not be interpreted restrictively (para.48).

The Supreme Court has consistently reminded Canadians that copyright is a set of limited rights, and that those limits are critical to the proper functioning of the system as a whole. Yet, even after 11 years of well-articulated, thoughtful reminders, it remains that copyright is often perceived as a measure of absolute control. Such perception is cultivated perhaps unintentionally by people/organizations who have a genuine desire to behave in a law-abiding manner and thus restrict behaviour that need not be restricted. With time, we may hope that such misunderstanding will subside. More potent and damaging is the conduct of members within the publishing community who actively promote misinformation.

For instance, consider the following notice that graces the frontmatter of far too many books:

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

If one unpacks this passage, the first sentence is correct. All the rights offered within copyright law have been reserved to the benefit of the copyright holder. At this juncture though, one should remember that extensive as those rights are, copyright holders are not permitted the right to refuse exceptions defined within the same law.  Copyright holders cannot pick the parts of the Copyright Act they wish to accept, and the parts which are to be dispensed with. But the sentence that follows in the passage tries to do exactly that; it categorically denies unauthorized use, despite the fact that fair dealing, fair use, and a host of other exceptions, can allow reproduction and transmission, by whatever means, without the consent of the publisher.


Update – February 28, 2015

Fair Dealing / Fair Use week sparked an outpouring of dialogue about our exceptions for unauthorized use. My favorite was Jonathan Band’s description of the many sightings of fair use in the daily life of a legislative assistant.

And, it was with great pleasure that I contributed the following posts to Harvard Library and the Office for Scholarly Communication, and University of Toronto Scholarly Communications and Copyright Office. My thanks to Kyle Courtney and Daniela Cancilla for the invitations to participate with their respective universities.

North of 49, posted February 24, 2015: “The proximity of the United States to Canada occasionally leads to some confusion north of the 49th parallel; in common parlance, fair use eclipses fair dealing. I cannot resist reminding others: we are Canadian; our exception is fair dealing. Yet it is only appropriate to also say that Canada has benefited greatly by American fair use. From our vantage point, we were able to appreciate the opportunity provided by flexibility in the language of exceptions, suffer the worst of fair use’s growing pains by proxy, and step ahead of such pain in our own development of exceptions.” To read more, see link or pdf.

Fair Dealing: Protector of the Public Domain, posted February 27, 2015“This past week marked Fair Dealing / Fair Use Week 2015. It was pleasing to see many Canadians within the educational community taking interest in our system of copyright. But, I confess to some disappointment that this interest should have blossomed only belatedly – after 2012. True, in that year the Copyright Act was revised with increased scope given to exceptional uses of copyrighted material. Also true, in 2012 the Supreme Court handed down two more decisions emphasizing the merits of fair dealing. But we cannot lose sight of the fact those decisions were based upon our previous Act which did not include any provision for “education.” Nor can we forget our Court began speaking to the importance of fair dealing a full decade earlier, emphasizing that fair dealing is our mode of entry into the public domain.” To read more, see link or pdf.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 48 other followers