Editor's Note

As technology blurs the lines between users and creators, the development of copyright law in this country should matter to us all

By Melissa Kluger

On Monday December 8th, 2008

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Wanna fight?

On the cover of this issue, an all-out brawl is about to begin: filmmaker against music-maker, politician against movie-goer, iPod-wearing, guitar-hero playing nerd against gold-record-sporting agent, and lawyer against lawyer.
What’s the cause? Copyright. One of Canada’s antiquated pieces of legislation has raised the ire of a long list of (sometimes unlikely) stakeholders. As our federal government prepares a major overhaul — the first in over a decade — everyone has an interest in the outcome.

As our feature writer Ivor Tossell writes in “Copyfight” (p.20), it wasn’t so long ago that the idea of loud and public debate about Canada’s complex intellectual property laws would have seemed absurd. But today, as technology blurs the lines between users and creators, the development of copyright law in this country should matter to us all.

In our feature, you’ll hear from lawyers on both sides. There are those who believe that innovation and creativity are furthered by strict copyright laws, and those who believe just the opposite — that advances in culture, science, and technology are made when copyright laws are relaxed.

If I had to step into our front cover brawl, having considered the arguments on both sides, you’d find me joining the team that favours freer, more open copyright laws. I am convinced that this approach allows for more creativity to flow and a more robust exchange of ideas.

A freer idea of copyright doesn’t apply only to music, art, and filmmaking. It also applies to the laws themselves, the products of our justice system, and the ability for lawyers and the public to access them. Striking the right copyright balance comes up in all corners of our profession, in areas like professional development and access to justice. And, as with arts and culture, I believe that when it comes to law, a freer idea of copyright is what we lawyers need.

There are a number of places where we are already benefiting from the open sharing of information. Our legislation is freely available online for anyone to use and reproduce, so long as they do not represent their copies to be official versions of those laws. And a huge portion of our country’s caselaw is also freely available, thanks to non-profit organizations dedicated to providing more open access.

Still, many of the tools we rely on as a profession are either copyrighted or languish in a copyright grey zone. Not only should our laws and caselaw be available for free and easy access, but also all the related court materials — factums, motion materials, and transcripts, for example. Anyone who has tried to track down a transcript at a Toronto courthouse knows that the current system is not conducive to the easy exchange of information.

We should also extend the principles of freer copyright to the ever-growing body of educational materials we are building in our profession. Right now, accessing most lectures, workshops, and presentations that make up our cannon of CLE materials are protected by copyright and are only available for sale. Even materials commissioned by the Law Society can only be accessed for a fee.

Whether it’s a court transcript or a CLE lecture, the legal community benefits when information is easy to access. It will allow us to better informed and more aware of current cases, issues, and trends. And it will make us better lawyers.

The copyright brawl is on. And for the sake of arts, culture, technology, and law, I want in.