Canadian Intellectual Property Office gets its own quiz wrong

The Canadian Intellectual Property Office has posted an online quiz on “IP basics,” inviting the average citizen to test one’s knowledge of copyright.

Weirdly, the second question in the Copyright section shows as correct an answer that is incorrect.

What constitutes a copyright infringement?
* Reproducing an article without the owner’s permission
* Playing songs on the radio without the owner’s permission
* Recording the performance of your favourite group without permission
* All of the above

According to the quiz, “all of the above” is the correct answer, but this is not true in Canadian copyright law. None of the above uses are categorically infringements: some uses are protected by the fair dealing exemption, others by blanket licensing (as described in the first comment below). The quiz offers no explanation for designating its purported correct answer.

I find this error a troubling detail, as it shows the national copyright office to be publicizing incorrect legal information and misleading the public on an aspect of copyright law that is important to everyday users of copyrighted materials.

The quiz and the wrong answer, as well as fuller explanations for why the answer is wrong, were brought to my attention today via the ABC Copyright listserv, whose subscribers and e-mail correspondence I thank for an intensive discussion of this disturbing irony. It should give Canadians pause to critically consider how much we can actually trust the federal office responsible for copyright law.

5 responses to “Canadian Intellectual Property Office gets its own quiz wrong

  1. I’d check who authored that quiz. I bet it was written for the government by the record companies, and put on the net verbatim without any fact checking. BTW of course you can play any publicly released song that you want on the radio – SOCAN audits the playlists and forwards royalties to the artists (as long as they’ve bothered to register somewhere in the world).

  2. I am no fan of the CIPO, but you are being quite picky, and imho (and I say this as an IP lawyer) you are wrong. All of those are in fact prima facie infringement. Fair dealing is a defense to infringement. In non-legal terms, all of those are infringement, but someone who infringes could be saved (i.e. not be found liable) by fair dealing or a license.

    Should the quiz explain the exceptions / defenses? Sure. But is it technically wrong? Not at all.

    • academicalism

      I appreciate you taking time to share your expert opinion (understood here as personal opinion, not legal advice, of course). There is perhaps room for differing legal interpretations on this point; the main reason I felt confident enough to post about it publicly was the initial support for the interpretation presented here that I got from prominent Canadian IP lawyers and IP law scholars on the aforementioned listserv. One expert thought the error egregious enough to consider contacting CIPO about it.*
      The main concern is that the answer to this quiz question, intended as a learning tool for the general public or ”users” of content, misrepresents copyright as entirely a matter of content owners’ rights – not as a balance of owners’ and users’ rights. So your point about the legal character of fair dealing as defence is well taken, but the copyright act, the Supreme Court’s CCH decision, and a growing number of institution-specific policies nevertheless represent fair dealing as not just a legal defence but as a statutory exemption, a ”user’s right” that is crucial to maintaining balance (or whatever little balance now inheres) in copyright law. (I know that such representation is also an arguable point – and that the efficacy of institutional fair dealing policies has been questioned in critical legal research.)

      * That the ABC-Copyright listserv is not public is why I’m not naming specific sources, whom I’d happily credit otherwise. If you’d like to join the listserv, I can ask its owner to invite you.

  3. Never accept the terms of service is correct regarding radio play; radio stations can play any commercial recording; they certainly don’t spend all their time calling up artists and asking for permission. Whether royalties accrue or not is entirely up to SOCAN.

    Since Shakespeare’s work was never “protected” by copyright, that answer is also technically incorrect.

    As well, Canadian copyright terms may only run a mere fifty years after the death of the author, but that varies around the world, with American corporations like Disney retaining copyright for 120 years (at present).

    Since the United States is currently extraditing UK citizen Richard O’Dwyer under charges of copyright infringement, even though what he did was not illegal in the UK, it becomes rather more important that the Canadian government accurately inform Canadians that copyright terms and laws are different elsewhere.

    • academicalism

      Thanks for expanding on the licensing detail – and for noting the anachronism in the Shakespeare question. There was an intellectual property regime in Shakespeare’s period, but another century would pass before the first statute for copyright as such became law.

      I see that the CIPO quiz has apparently deleted the question that occasioned this post (each section of the quiz used to have three questions, now the copyright section has two).

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