Meera Nair

Posts Tagged ‘history’

Sir John Thompson

In Posts on December 11, 2016 at 10:55 am

We are told he is the best Prime Minister Canada never had. Sir John Sparrow David Thompson served only two years in that capacity; an untimely death on 12 December 1894 cut short his stewardship. But his contributions to Canada spanned much longer than those two years would suggest.

Under Sir John A. Macdonald, Thompson held the position of Justice Minister (sworn in on 26 September 1885), a responsibility he maintained to his death. While deeply respected by his Conservative colleagues, Thompson’s sterling character did not always meet with approval from all; one party stalwart moaned: “He won’t even consider whether a thing is good for the party until he is quite sure it is good for the country.”[1]

As Justice Minister, Thompson undertook the monumental task of giving Canada its own Criminal Code. Working closely with a bi-partisan committee, the result was a statute that reflected Thompson’s skills as jurist, and dedication as a Canadian. His first biographer, J. Castell Hopkins, would argue that the Code was far more deserving to be named for its maker than the Code Napoleon. Thompson also served as an arbiter in the Bering Straits dispute between Canada and the United States, and he staunchly supported the position that Canada should set its own copyright course—that indeed Canada had the right to do so as a self-governing Dominion.

Thompson’s commitment to the rule of law, fairness and justice were unparalleled, earning him praise from both sides of the aisle. He was, in a word, a statesman. Throughout though, he was confronted by the internecine Catholic/Protestant mistrust, a challenge that has largely faded from Canadian memory but was as potent in its time as the misplaced-hostility over multiculturalism is today. Thompson, a Methodist turned Catholic, initially turned down Governor General Lord Stanley’s request to assume the helm following Prime Minister Macdonald’s death—Thompson felt that his Catholicism would provoke trouble for the government. But when MacDonald’s successor John Abbot resigned on account of poor health, Thompson agreed to lead the Conservative Party and thus too the Government of Canada.

My interest in Thompson was sparked during my doctoral exploration of Canadian copyright history.[2] In 1889, under Thompson’s guidance, the Canadian Copyright Act was amended as necessary to address the complexities of Canada’s geographic and political position, caught as the country was between American capitalism and British imperialism. Passed with unanimity by Canadian parliamentarians, the Act encouraged the development of a national publishing industry by ensuring the legitimate reprinting of works of foreign authors, through a compulsory royalty. This measure applied only if the copyright holder did not seek publication in Canada within one month of publication elsewhere. Canadian readers and all authors would have benefited.

But the passage of the 1889 Act required disengagement from Imperial copyright law, as also from the blanket pronouncements of the recently-formed Berne Convention. Thompson argued, not for Canadian autonomy, but for recognition of the autonomy as it already existed in the British North America Act of 1867 and had further developed in the decades following Confederation. Unfortunately, although Thompson held the better argument, the political clout of British and American publishing industries ensured that such recognition was withheld.

British intransigence towards Canada stemmed in part from the desire to bring about an Anglo-American copyright treaty; Canada was a valuable bargaining chip. Even before a treaty of sorts eventually transpired, the Canadian market was offered up by savvy copyright holders who sought private arrangements with American publishing houses. If assured that no similar arrangement would be made with a Canadian printer, American publishers were willing to provide some compensation to the owner. As P. B. Waite describes, the tone was not always benign: “You will get no compensation whatever from us, if you permit any Canadian house to publish your work.”[3]

These practices were so widespread as to merit inclusion in a Royal Commission on Copyright. Aware of the gentleman’s agreement among American publishers (some might say honour among thieves), whereby the right to continued publication was reserved to the house that gained first publication, the Commissioners observed:

[S]ecured from competition … it is worth while for [American publishers] to rival each other abroad in their offers for early sheets of important works. We are assured that there are cases in which authors reap substantial results … and instances are even known in which an English author’s returns from the United States exceed the profits of his British sale …. (para. 242)..

Notably, that same Commission report supported the measures that Canada would later attempt to enact in 1889 (paras.206-207).

When the long-desired Anglo-American Treaty came into being, it provided much less benefit than what Canada had offered. The United States would not abandon its manufacturing clause—ensuring the betterment of American industry and loss to the British counterpart—meaning that foreign authors could only obtain copyright for works set and printed within the United States. Faced with that expensive proposition, English authors and publishers were left with little to show for the years of waiting. Following the passage of the American Copyright Bill, C.J. Longman (of the House of Longman) did not mince words:

The Act … offers protection—on conditions—to any British author.  There are already signs that the value of this protection may be over-estimated in this country. It is desirable therefore to point out that to those writers whose published works are before the world, … but have failed to attract the attention of pirates, the Act gives no advantage. If there had been any prospect of republishing those books profitably, the enterprising American publisher would certainly have availed himself of his chance when he could have had them for nothing.  ….
– “The American Copyright Bill,” The Economic Review 1.2 (1891).

Despite the inadequacies of the American arrangements, the British Crown continued to refuse Canada’s requests for independent action regarding copyright. Even though Sir Charles Trevelyan had emphasized for years that partnering with Canadian publishers would allow England to gain the upper-hand in the reprints market of North America as a whole. That logic, not to mention the greater benefit for English authors, fell on deaf ears. English authors and copyright holders could neither envisage altering the model of monopoly copyright, nor tolerate diversity within colonial implementation of the law.

Thompson continued to press his case with clarity, evidence, and appeals to the rule of law. Invited to serve as a member of the Queen’s Privy Council, he traveled to London in December 1894 to be sworn in. In the days prior to the ceremony, Thompson discussed the copyright issue with members of the Colonial Office, and achieved some recognition of the legitimacy of Canada’s position: “… the claim of the Canadian legislature is a good one, and the burden of proof that it is contrary to public policy rests on those who contest it.”[4] But whatever ground Thompson had gained, was never to be capitalized on. Within hours of the swearing-in ceremony Thompson collapsed at Windsor Castle and died. He was forty-nine.

Without Thompson’s leadership, Canada could not achieve meaningful independence on matters relating to copyright.

Notes:

[1] Quoted by Gordon Donaldson in The Prime Ministers of Canada (Doubleday Canada Limited, 1994) p.53

[2] I cover this period of  history in detail in “The Copyright Act of 1889–A Canadian Declaration of Independence,” Canadian Historical Review, Vol. 90, Issue 1, p.1-28.

[3] Quoted by Peter B. Waite in “Sir John Thompson and Copyright, 1889-1894: Struggling to break free of Imperial Law,” Bulletin of Canadian Studies.  Vol.6 No.2, p.36-49.

[4] Ibid.

 

fair use denied — part II

In Posts on February 23, 2016 at 6:04 am

For the first installment of this story involving Wildest Dreams and creativity-in-the-making, see Part I of fair use denied.

II. fair use — its origins and intentions

The contemporary bundle of rights comprising copyright is rooted in the customs of 16th century English publishing guilds. Their practices shaped what is often referred to as the first copyright act, the Statute of Anne. Entering into English law  in 1710[1], English colonies, of both loyalist and revolutionary tendencies, drew from the motherland when developing their own jurisprudence.

Eventually, the offshoot nations put their own stamp upon the system of copyright, including the exceptions within the system which  protect individual, unauthorized use of copyrighted works. While Commonwealth countries tended to maintain the English term and structure of fair dealing, in the United States, the exception evolved under the label of fair use.

Initially, fair use was applied only through common law practice; its genesis is usually attributed to Folsom v. Marsh (1841).[2] The dispute concerned two biographies of George Washington; in the process of adjudication Justice Story offered the following instruction to determine what is (or is not) fair use: “In short, we must often, in deciding questions of this sort, look to the nature and objects of the selections made, the quantity and value of the materials used, and the degree in which the use may prejudice the sale, or diminish the profits, or supersede the objects, of the original work.”[3]

This structure shaped fair use’s entry into American law in 1976.[4] Section 107 states:

… the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include—

(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;
(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.[5]

The intent of the then-Congress was that fair use should retain the flexibility necessary to safeguard uses yet unknown. An instructional guide prepared by the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress explicitly draws attention to this necessity:

Section 107 is somewhat vague since it would be difficult to prescribe precise rules to cover all situations. … Section 107 makes it clear that the factors a court shall consider shall “include” [the four factors].  … [T]he terms “including” and “such as” are illustrative and not limitative. The legislative reports state that section 107 as drafted is intended to restate the present judicial doctrine; it is not intended to change, narrow or enlarge it in any way.[6]

According to a House Report about the 1976 Act, “… since the doctrine [of fair use] is an equitable rule of reason, no generally applicable definition is possible, and each case raising the question must be decided on its own facts (emphasis mine).”[7]

Furthermore, the four factors were to be considered in unity against the objectives of the system of copyright itself. Those objectives are clearly stated in the American Constitution: “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”[8]

But Progress takes root in Play. Part III continues tomorrow.

 

Notes

[1] 8 Anne c. C19 (1709/1710). It must be emphasized that for all the pathos (then and now) about copyright serving to protect starving authors, the statutory language was designed principally to keep order in the book trade. This period of time has received extensive coverage; Lyman Ray Patterson and Mark Rose are among the founders of this canon of scholarly work. See L.R.Patterson, Copyright in Historical Perspective (Nashville: Vanderbilt University, 1968) and M.Rose, Authors and Owners – the Invention of Copyright (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993).

[2] Folsom v. Marsh  9 F. Cas. 342, (C.C.D. Mass. 1841) [Folsom]. However “… many of the points raised in Folsom were anticipated two years earlier by Justice Story in Gray v. Russell;”see William Patry, The Fair Use Privilege in Copyright Law, 2d ed. (Washington DC: The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., 1995) at 19.

[3] Folsom at 348.

[4] That fair use eventually became a component within statutory law was not a foregone conclusion; the process took considerable time and discussion. In 1958, at the behest of the Subcommittee on Patents, Trademarks, and Copyrights, Alan Latman authored a study concerning fair use and raised two questions: (i) should fair use should be codified into law; and, (ii) if so, to what detail? His work was circulated to an advisory panel of nine copyright experts, eight of whom argued that fair use should not be codified with any attempt at specificity. See Alan Latman, “Fair Use of Copyrighted Works, Study No. 14,” Copyright Law Revision, Studies Prepared for the Subcomm. On Patents, Trademarks and Copyrights, Comm. on the Judiciary, 86th Cong. 2d Sess., (Comm. Print 1960).

[5] 17 U.S.C. § 107 (2000 & Supp. IV 2004).

[6] Marybeth Peters (Senior Attorney Advisor), General Guide to the Copyright Act of 1976 (September 1977), United States Copyright Office, Library of Congress, at 8:2,

[7] H.R. Report No. 94-1476, 94th Cong. 2d Sess. 65(1976). Also cited in Halpern et al, Fundamentals of United States Intellectual Property Law: Copyright, Patent, Trademark, 3rd edition (Wolters Kluwer: The Netherlands, 2011) p.18.

[8] U.S. Constitution, Art. I, § 8, cl. 8.