27 March, 2017

Gimme a C! - Cheerleader Outfit Designs Protected by Copyright, Says US Supreme Court

Having discussed the Varsity Brands case in the US Court of Appeals nearly 6 months ago, this writer was quite excited to hear the Supreme Court's decision in the same case. While cheerleader outfits and their designs touch on very few people's lives, the matter still will shed light on very seldom discussed aspects of copyright; something that many IP practitioners and academics will appreciate quite a bit. The Supreme Court handed down its decision only last week.

Without discussing the facts in too much detail, the case of Star Athletica LLC v Varsity Brands Inc. dealt with two companies that design and manufacture cheerleading outfits, which often incorporate fanciful designs and patterns to distinguish the cheerleaders from each other (and to bring in their respective schools' colors). Varsity had registered over 200 such designs, many incorporating "...combinations, positionings, and arrangements of elements that include chevrons, lines, curves, stripes, angles, diagonals, inverted [chevrons], coloring, and shapes". The designs at issue are registrations 299A, 299B, 074, 078, and 0815 (viewable at the Appendix to the judgment). Varsity took Star Athletica to court over copyright infringement, specifically relating to the designs above, with the matter ultimately ending in the Supreme Court.

The crux of the matter lies in whether the designs used by Varsity are protected by copyright under 17 USC 102(5) as pictorial, graphic of sculptural works, and whether they would be classed as a 'useful article' under the provision, meaning an article "…having an intrinsic utilitarian function that is not merely to portray the appearance of the article or to convey information", therefore not being protected by copyright. Useful articles would only be protected by copyright if they incorporate "...pictorial, graphic, or sculptural features that can be identified separately from, and are capable of existing independently of, the utilitarian aspects of the article". This would mean that the design used, and wished to be protected, needs to stand out on its own from the article its used on, otherwise it will be deemed as merely functional and won't be protected.

Justice Thomas, handing down the majority's opinion, then moved onto whether the designs actually can be identified separately from, and can exist independently, from the utilitarian aspects of the uniforms.

The Court set out the ordinary interpretation of the statute's text, in that for the design to be identified separately from the useful article, the decision-maker only needs to "...be able to look at the useful article and spot some two- or three-dimensional element that appears to have pictorial, graphic, or sculptural qualities". This is pretty much as simple as it gets, as the identification of a design in the article, so long as it doesn't blend into the article or isn't a part of its functionality, is most likely quite straightforward in many instances. The second part, the independent-existence of the design, is a determination of "...that the separately identified feature has the capacity to exist apart from the utilitarian aspects of the article". The design therefore has to retain its design value, i.e. remain a work capable of being protected under section 102(5); however, it still cannot be a useful article in itself even if separated from the original article it was applied to, nor will it give rise to rights in the useful article it was applied to even if it is protectable outside of that article.

In summary, "...a feature of the design of a useful article is eligible for copyright if, when identified and imagined apart from the useful article, it would qualify as a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work either on its own or when fixed in some other tangible medium". What remains curious is the subjectivity involved in the test, where the decision-maker has to only identify the design and imagine is outside of the useful article for it to potentially be protected.

Some don't need fancy patterns to distinguish themselves in cheerleading
In applying the test to the designs in question, Justice Thomas determined that the decorations were features that had pictorial, graphic or sculptural qualities. They also, if removed from the outfits themselves, were separate from the useful article, possibly being usable in another medium, for example on a canvas as a two-dimensional work of art. The removal of the designs would not replicate the uniforms, but merely the designs used in them, therefore not making them a useful article in themselves. While the designs do include the outline of the uniform, Justice Thomas rejected the argument that this would reproduce the useful article as whole, as the artistic value in the work still remains, even recreated with the outline of where it would be applied to. This would not, as discussed above, create rights in the useful article or its construction, but merely the design.

Star Athletica put forth a wealth of arguments to contradict the above determination. Among them Justice Thomas rejected the assertion that, for protection to be afforded for the design, both the design and the useful article have to exist as such when separated (i.e. as a protectable design and a useful article in themselves), where the extracted design would solely be an artistic feature, as the focus is on the design rather than the article it was taken from and the end-result after separation for it is irrelevant. Applied art would be protected if separated, even if it fulfilled some useful aspect in the article.

The Supreme Court therefore held that the designs in the cheerleader outfits are protected by copyright, and rejected the appeal.

While the majority issued its, arguably at least, straightforward decision, there was some dissent from Justice Breyer and Justice Kennedy. The Justices, in their joint dissent, argued that the design and the dress (as depicted in the registrations) were not separable, and would merely reproduce the dress in the new 'separated' design. Due to this lack of both physical and conceptual separation, the design would not be protected under copyright. The dissent's viewpoint clearly stems from the depiction of the designs, but this writer would argue that their perspective would entail a great deal of splitting hairs. While it is clear one has to treat the design as it is presented in the registration, it is still possible to apply common sense when looking at the design from a subjective point of view, which affords this ability to both identify and imagine the design separate from the outline of a dress (or the three-dimensional depiction of the same).

The case if a very interesting one, and has finally set a clear test for the consideration of useful articles and designs in the same. While the subjectivity of the test can, and most likely will, ruffle some feathers, it seems to be the simplest and most logical approach to assessing the designs, but does leave the outcomes of cases in the hands of the respective judges and their subjective viewpoints. In its simplicity lies some level of concern, as it will undoubtedly impact the "knock-off" business, but rightsholders would argue this is the right, and desired outcome.

22 March, 2017

A Gentleman's Code - The Copying of Software Code and Copyright

Computer programming, especially to the layman, can be both incredibly daunting and very confusing, as the languages, while logical, can be quite impenetrable. Since computers and computing have become near ubiquitous in modern society, so has programming become a part of our lives, even if not directly. Due to this, the value of code and programs can be substantial, especially for ones that are lucky enough to become standards, or just plain popular. Code and copyright rarely meet, but in the vein of the above, can code be construed as a copyright protected work, and if so, how much can you copy before you're infringing the rights attached to the code?

The case of IPC Global Pty Ltd v Pavetest Pty Ltd (No 3) dealt with equipment used to test asphalt and construction materials, built by IPC, which included custom programming to enable the user to test said materials and view results. This piece of software was installed on the users' computer. Two individuals, Con Sinadinos and Alan Feeley, worked at IPC (with the latter working as a consultant as a part of Alueta). The pair then resigned from IPC in 2012, establishing a competitor company, Pavetest, which launched competing testing products. Mr Feeley had in his possessions copies of IPC's programs on his computer that he took with him when leaving IPC. He then provided them for a programmer who made copies of the programs, leaving some parts of the Pavetest identical to that of IPC's programs. IPC then took Pavetest (and the individuals) for, among other claims, copyright infringement and breach of confidence.

Although Justice Moshinsky had a wide array of issues to decide, focus for the purposes of this article will remain on the question: "...did Pavetest infringe copyright in the UTS software by the creation of version 1 of the TestLab software? In particular, did version 1 of the TestLab software reproduce a substantial part of the UTS software?"

After discussing, at length, the companies and the development of the two competing pieces of software, the court focussed on the matter of copyright infringement.

Original code? Nah... (Source: xkcd)
The courts have struggled with defining what amounts to a 'substantial amount', as per section 14 of the Copyright Act 1968, which was discussed by the High Court of Australia in IceTV: "The case law does disclose that special difficulty has been encountered in considering the relationship between the phrase “a substantial part” in s 14(1) of the Act and the definition in s 10(1) of that species of “literary work” which is a “computer program”, being: “a set of statements or instructions to be used directly or indirectly in a computer in order to bring about a certain result.” (Emphasis added) The phrase emphasised suggests the importance of function, although this is usually encountered in patent and designs law, rather than in the “traditional” law of copyright respecting original literary works".

The courts have developed a test to determine whether a computer program has been infringed, there is ‘the need for some process of qualitative abstraction of the material features of the computer program in question’, and the copying of those features in the potentially infringing program (i.e. of a program calculates figures based on data, the program features of the calculation would be more important than the aesthetic function of the same under this context).

While the respondent conceded that the code is a copyright protected work, that substantial parts of the code were copied (but not to the degree of being a substantial part under section 14), and that this was done on behalf of Pavetest with the authorization of the individuals above, the court still had to consider whether the copying was indeed substantial under the law.

Due to the coder working for Pavetest to be able to rewrite the code so as the new version didn't infringe IPC's copyright, there clearly was a wide margin of expression in how the code could be implemented, while still having the same functionality. The writing of the code therefore included a degree of choice and judgment, making the expression of that functionality original under copyright. While some parts of the code would not be essential, Justice Moshinsky still upheld that they were original works equally to those parts that were essential. Finally, the amount of code, albeit a small amount (roughly 10,000 lines of code from about 250,000 lines), the copying was substantial, according to the judge, due to its necessity to achieve the desired functionality, rather than just simply through a quantitive measure. Pavetest had subsequently infringed the rights in the code.

The case is a very interesting one, and highlights a need for anyone copying others' code (which seems to be an industry standard, albeit only in parts of programming) to be cautious, and to rewrite anything that could be deemed to be a substantial copying. Software creation is incredibly complex and difficult, and one can appreciate the adoption of shortcuts, but the courts will clearly combat any abuses of others copyright works, even if it's just 'meaningless' code.

Source:  IP Whiteboard

07 March, 2017

All Wrapped Up - Canadian Federal Court Decides on the Sharing of Pay-walled Copyright Works

While the European landscape has changed and clarified itself to a great degree in relation to the use of copyright protected content online (see more for example here, here and here), the rest of the world, comparatively at least, has stayed relatively quiet. One issue in particular, meaning the accessing of pay-walled or otherwise restricted content through sharing of that content to others without access to is is legal or not, has trickled through more than others. Many would argue that, while not definitive, the EU is quite established itself on where it stands on this, but our cousins across the pond in Canada have yet to fully cement themselves in this question, as can be illustrated by this recent decision in the Federal Court of Ontario.

The case of Ontario Ltd (Blacklock's Reporter) v. Canada (Attorney General) dealt with an online news agency, Blacklock's Reporter, which specializes in news surrounding, predominantly, the Canadian government. The Department of Finance, a part of the Canadian government, distributed two articles from Blacklock' within the Department without seeking consent. The contents of the article are largely irrelevant to the case, but Blacklock's does keep all of its contents behind a paywall, with a DOF employee accessing the relevant articles through a single subscription, subsequently sharing them internally within the DOF. Blacklock's then took the DOF to court over copyright infringement.

The Federal Court had to assess whether the rights in those works had been infringed, and if that use then was protected by fair dealing.

The court did not dispute the copyright in the works under section 29 of the Canadian Copyright Act (nor did the parties), but did raise questions as to whether Blacklock's assertion of their rights could amount to an abuse of those rights. The question therefore focussed on the aspect of fair dealing.

Canadian fair dealing covers only a narrow set of exceptions in section 29, particularly for research, private study, education, parody or satire. The DOF argued that their use was for research purposes and didn't therefore infringe Blaclock's rights.

Section 29 was further expanded on in the milestone case of CCH (discussed more here), which set a two-part test on whether a use was protected by fair dealing: 1. Whether the dealing is for the purpose of “research” or “private study”, also known as an allowable purpose; and 2. Whether the dealing is “fair”. The latter, whether a particular use is fair, involved certain factors that the courts ought to consider:

"1. The purpose of the dealing, where an objective assessment is made of the “real purpose or motive” behind using the copyrighted work, such as for commercial purposes versus charitable purposes; 2. The character of the dealing, examining how the works were dealt with, such as whether multiple copies of works are being widely distributed, or whether a single copy of a work is used for a legitimate purpose; 3. The quantity or amount of the dealing, including the importance of the work allegedly infringed; 4. Alternatives to the dealing, such as whether there is a non-copyrighted equivalent of the work that could have been used instead; 5.  The nature of the work, such as whether the work has been published or is confidential; and 6. The effect of the dealing on the work, such as whether a reproduced work is likely to compete with the market of the original work."

While the above two categories relate more directly to the research exception put forth by, a more nuanced approach has been adopted for research in the SOCAN case, which were distilled by the court in the case at hand:

Research can be more 'challenging' than you'd expect
"Research does not need to be undertaken for the purpose of the user engaging in its own act of authorship or creativity; Research is not limited to creative purposes but can be “piecemeal, informal, exploratory, or confirmatory”, and can be undertaken for no purpose except personal interest; The first step in the fair dealing analysis is a relatively low threshold and does not require the creation of a new work; and The analysis should be undertaken from the perspective of the user or consumer’s purpose". Here the court gives a very wide definition of research, potentially including mere personal interests, even if not 'academic' research, which can include much of the information used to support the purpose. This writer is encouraged by this finding, since a more narrow, limiting definition would deter private researchers (such as this 'researcher') and the potential sharing of that knowledge with others.

The Court quickly, without giving the above much consideration, determined that the DOF's use was indeed fair dealing. This included the fact that, for example, the materials were acquired legally through a licence, the use was for legitimate business reasons internally in the DOF, no commercial advantage was sought and that it was limited to only 6 individuals. Even though the terms and conditions were breached as a result, the court rejected that this would prohibit or prevent fair dealing from applying in those instances. They, however, have to be brought to the attention of the subscriber, which Blacklock's had not done (albeit the terms did exist, but were never formally accepted by the individuals signing up). The defendant was therefore never aware of the terms, and of their own breach as a result.

Judge Barnes determined that fair dealing did apply in this case, and noted that "...Absent consent, subscribers and downstream users are subject to the obligations imposed on them by the Act. But at the same time they enjoy the considerable protection afforded to them under the statutory fair dealing provisions". He further highlighted that, as contested by Blacklock's, that subscriber services like this would suffer very little detriment to their business model, but it does not allow for a carte blanche for users to share the content, which is restricted to genuine fair dealing either way.

The case shows that, provided the uses are legitimate, fair dealing should be afforded a broad and inclusive definition, especially when it comes to research. One can agree with this, since a strict interpretation would act counter-intuitively to the sharing and dissemination of information. The decision also highlights a potential need for the UK to adopt a similar 'fair use' policy, which broadens and protects legitimate uses in a more effective way than restrictive categories.

Source: Barry Sookman

28 February, 2017

Pretty Cheesed - Will GIs Remain Protected in the UK After Brexit?

With the impending Brexit launch date looming in only two months, the repercussions of the UK's possible decision to leave the EU casts a shadow over nearly every aspect of the law in the country. While the nuances of its effects remain largely unclear at this moment, despite the government's white paper published earlier this month, and this leads to a wealth of speculation, even in the field of IP law. This writer recently came across the article below by the Guardian that discussed Brexit's impact on geographical indications (more on which here), and clearly, there could be some interesting issues presented should this not be resolved during the negotiations.

By way of exposition, Geographical Indicators (including PGIs and PDOs for the sake of simplicity) protect the specific origins or specifications of goods in the EU, allowing only those who comply with the specifications of a given GI to use the name in conjunction with their product (i.e. acting as a form of provenance of legitimacy). For example, Parmigiano Reggiano and Feta can only be used for cheeses that follow the specifications, i.e. have been produced in a particular region using particular milk. These are protected, among international treaties, under the GI Directive.

What remains interesting is that over 60 British products, such as Stilton blue cheese and the Cornish Pasty, will remain protected under EU law even after the UK's departure from the EU (as no membership is required); unless the Union will amend its laws or simply rescind protection for UK GIs.

Peter was unsure what to do with
all of his faux "parmesan" after Brexit
On the flip-side of this conundrum, all of the EU GIs would be free to be used in the UK, provided that the legislation that remains does not reflect the EU position as it was prior to Brexit. Even though individuals could make Birmingham "Champagne" or Newcastle "Parma Ham", the goods would not be allowed to enter the EU market (or those with reciprocal agreements with the EU, such as Canada under the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement). Internal competition in the UK could lead to branding issues for GIs, but it seems unlikely that many domestic producers would willingly go against prior practice and laws.

An additional twist to the tale are the various conventions that the UK is party to, including the TRIPS Agreement and Madrid Agreement, would still remain in force, protecting GIs in the UK outside of EU legislation.

Although Brexit will present its challenges to the UK and EU economies, this writer doubts that GIs will be an issue, and that business will continue as usual, with protection being extended to GIs both in the UK and the EU. Reciprocal protection will most likely be extended to intellectual property rights in negotiations, or at least conversions, where needed, would be provided to those wishing to retain their rights, and equivalent legislation will nonetheless have to be introduced as a part of international obligations outside of the EU.

The hypothetical scenario of a lawless GI landscape in the UK is an entertaining one, but is very much a near impossibility should the UK want to remain relevant in the global market.

Source: The Guardian

23 February, 2017

Walking the Online Plank - Advocate General Szpunar Sets the Scene for Blocking Infringing Websites

Peer-to-peer file sharing has had its enemies since its very beginning, especially when used for sharing either protected or non-protected works online. A particular offender in the former category is the infamous Pirate Bay website, which shares hyperlinks to files known as 'torrent' files, which contain metadata on the files, linking a variety of peers (i.e. file sharers) with others wishing to download said file, and deliver pieces of the file using the P2P protocol. The fight against the Pirate Bay as an intermediary has been going on for a very long time, and the matter has been winding its way through the EU courts as well. While the CJEU has yet to rule on the matter, Advocate General Szpunar handed down his opinion before the CJEU's determination on this long-standing matter.

The case of Stichting Brein v Ziggo BV concerned Stichting Brein, a Dutch organization that focusses on combatting the illegal exploitation of copyright protected works, and to protect the interests of rights holders. Ziggo BV and the other defendant, XS4ALL Internet BV, are Dutch internet service providers who largely control the Dutch market. Stichting Brein took the ISPs to court, applying to compel the ISPs block all internet access to the Pirate Bay under the Dutch transposition of Article 8 of the InfoSoc Directive.

What the CJEU had to answer were two questions that the Court summarized as follows: "… the referring court raises in reality the matter of the liability of operators of indexing sites of peer-to-peer networks for copyright infringements committed in the context of the use of those networks. Can those operators themselves be regarded as being the originators of those infringements, which would mean they are directly liable (first question)? Or, even if they are not directly liable, can an order be made blocking access to their websites, which, as I shall explain below, requires a form of indirect liability (second question)?"

The first aspect of the larger question is whether the provision of indexed metadata relating to P2P files through a search engine is a communication to the public. As has been firmly established, a communication to the public comprises of two criteria, in essence (1) an act of communication and (2) it is made to a public.

The Advocate General first set out the basics, where an 'act of communication' emphasises the essential role of the player originating the communication and the deliberate nature of their intervention (including full knowledge of the consequences of their actions), without which the customer would not have gained access to the work and therefore does. The nature of the communication is also important, with rights holders also being able to prevent the infringement even if the communication, at the choosing of the end-user, hasn't taken place yet.

A 'public' is one where the communication is intended for an indeterminate, but fairly large number of recipients; however, as was discussed in Svensson, the public has to be a new one, and the provision content to the entire internet would not necessarily amount to a 'new' public. Even If provided for the internet at large, you still have to consider the intention of the communicator and the public it wanted to reach during the communication.  If the communication is made without the authorization of the rights holder, it's clearly made to a new public they didn't consider, making the public a 'new' one for this purpose.

Online piracy is real and scary
The AG then moved onto the actual application of the above to P2P networks. In his view, a copyright protected work would be communicated to the public via a P2P network, as; firstly, the works are made available on the computers of the network users, so any other user can download them; Secondly, the amount of users in P2P networks and using the Pirate Bay clearly would be an undefined and significant number of persons; and lastly, as no consent was given by the rights holder to share the works on these systems or websites, the works have been distributed to  a 'new public', since "if the author of the work has not consented to it being shared on a peer-to-peer network, the users of that network constitute by definition a new public". While this amounts to a clear communication to the public, the AG had to still decide, in his opinion, who the works originated from (i.e. the users or the indexing website).

The role of the indexing websites was also deemed necessary by the AG, since "...[infringing] works would not be accessible and the operation of the network would not be possible or would at any rate be much more complex and its use less efficient" without them. He also highlighted the need for knowledge by the website operators, and specified that "...from the moment that operator has knowledge of the fact that making available took place in breach of copyright and does not take action to render access to the work in question impossible, its conduct may be regarded as being intended to allow, expressly, the continuation of the illegal making available of that work and, hence, as an intentional action". The website operators' intervention is therefore necessary and deliberate (at least in the instances as detailed above), meaning the operators would be jointly with the user making the works available and thus communicating them to the public.

The AG then moved onto the second question, discussing the need to block access to websites such as the Pirate Bay (albeit only in the instance should the CJEU disagree with his answer to the first question).

In his view, Article 8 presupposes a link between the infringement and the subject of the injunction, meaning the services of the intermediary are used to facilitate the infringement happening through the website in question. He concluded that, in the light of this dependant relationship, the intermediary has to prevent access to the site to protect itself from liability.

He also added that this would not, potentially at least, impinge on the users' fundamental rights. The blocking of websites like the Pirate Bay would be proportionate to the significance and seriousness of the copyright infringements committed on that site. The block would also not prevent legitimate uses of P2P technologies, or the finding of legally shared files online. The measures themselves, ultimately, will have to be "...proportionate to the significance and seriousness of the copyright infringements committed, which is a matter for the national court to determine".

The AG's opinion sets the scene for the CJEU, and clearly will envision the decision going the way of the rights holders. Admittedly, this would seem like the most logical solution to a complex and difficult problem to tackle; however, measures would indeed have to be proportionate and non-restricting to the public at large. This writer would envision a possible avalanche of blocking injunctions being pushed after a decision to the affirmative; however, an EU-wide block seems highly unlikely, as application has to be done on a national basis.

Source: IPKat

16 February, 2017

Putting the Hammer Down - Punitive Damages Greenlit by the CJEU

Damages are a peculiar beast in the world of IP. Too little, and you effectively encourage infringement, or at least mitigate the punch after any successful infringement claims. Too excessive, and you can cause for the balance of power to excessively shift to the rights holder's hands, possibly even encouraging the misuse of those rights in the search of easy monies. Due to this, many jurisdictions elect against excessive, or in other terms, punitive damages, which seek to punish the offender and to discourage others in the process. EU law in itself does not provide for punitive damages as a must for Member States, but does that then mean you cannot introduce them as a Member State? The CJEU answered this question less than a month ago.

The case of Stowarzyszenie “Oławska Telewizja Kablowa” v Stowarzyszenie Filmowców Polskich dealt with the use of TV programming by OTK, a local television broadcaster in Poland, for which SFP, a Polish collection society, managed the rights. The two entities had a licencing agreement in place until the late 1990s; however, OTK kept broadcasting the shows even after the end of the agreement (seeking to set the fees from a third-party body, nonetheless). SFP took OTK to court for, among other things, copyright infringement, seeking twice the amount in damages that they would have gotten from a legitimate licencing arrangement. OTK took the matter forward, particularly on the point of the punitive damages, ultimately ending up with the CJEU.

The CJEU had to answer one question: "...whether Article 13 of Directive 2004/48 [Enforcement Directivemust be interpreted as precluding national legislation... under which the holder of an intellectual property right that has been infringed may choose to demand from the person who has infringed that right either compensation for the damage that he has suffered, taking account of all the appropriate aspects of the particular case, or, without him having to prove the actual loss and the causal link between the event giving rise to the infringement and the loss suffered, payment of a sum corresponding to twice or, in the event of a culpable infringement, three times the appropriate fee which would have been due if permission had been given for the work concerned to be used".

The Enforcement Directive lays down the minimum standard of protection that Member States have to have in place, but does not preclude them from setting higher, more punitive measures to do the same (in particular what was discussed in Hansson). Similarly, the Berne Convention, the Rome Convention and the TRIPS Agreement all allow for wider protection for Member States than prescribed.

Simone considered this to be cruel and unusual punishment
The CJEU therefore concluded that Article 13 does not preclude Member States from enacting provisions that are wider than what is set in the Enforcement Directive.

Even though the compensation offered through more punitive damages is not exactly the amount of loss suffered by the rights holder, it does not mean it cannot be provided for, as that characteristic is inherent in any lump-sum compensation given to rights holders (including as set in Article 13). The CJEU also pointed out that "...the fact that [the Directive] does not entail an obligation on the Member States to provide for ‘punitive’ damages cannot be interpreted as a prohibition on introducing such a measure". This makes sense to this writer, as the lack of a requirement does not necessarily mean the opposite would be true of the very same, leaving the option open to those wishing to implement it.

Finally, the CJEU emphasized that damages awarded, without being punitive, might not cover all of the costs associated with the pursuing of those damages, which possibly includes research into the infringement, other legal fees and even, as decided in Liffers, any moral prejudice suffered by the rights holder. Even if the amount would exceed all losses suffered, including the above, the Court noted that the Member States would still have the capability to regulate any possible abuses of punitive damages in court proceedings.

The decision reached by the CJEU does not in itself change much, but does affirm the capability for Member States to have punitive damage provisions, including ones in the UK. Should they wish to implement such measures in the future is also allowed; however, EU legislation, as it stands, does not impose such an obligation. This decision will delight many rights holders in Member STates with punitive damage provisions, and pushes the law a little in their favour going forward.

Source: IPKat

06 February, 2017

All the Right Words - The British Columbia Court of Appeal Decides on Keyword Advertising and Passing Off in Canada

While the Internet's vastness and accessibility seems like a given for those who've seen it grow over the years, finding what you need can still be quite the struggle, especially when you're looking for more niche or specific information or services. Search engines like Google have made this a breeze in most cases, but unbeknownst to most, there is a war going on underneath the surface of search engines and websites. Due to the sheer amount of competition in most sectors, being the top result in a search query, or at least making it to the first page and above your competitors, pushes website administrators and creators to rely on less 'nice' methods to push their results ahead of others. One way is through the use of website metadata, particularly the keywords associated with your website. In the light of this specific feature, could you use your competitors' name or trademarks in your own website's keywords? The Canadian Court of Appeal looked to settle this point after a first instance decision sometime in late 2015.

The case of Vancouver Community College v. Vancouver Career College (Burnaby) Inc. dealt with the use of the acronym VCC, which has been used by Vancouver Community College for some time, which had also registered the abbreviation and its full name as trademarks in Canada (marks 0910482 and 0916687). Vancouver Career College also aimed to use the same acronym with or in place of their name, in their domain name, incorporating it into their marketing materials and in social media, and also purchased the keyword advertising rights to it on Google and Yahoo. Vancouver Community College subsequently took Vancouver Career College to court under claims of passing off and trademark infringement.

The Court first dealt with the claim of passing off, which is enshrined in the Canadian Trade-marks Act in section 7. Similarly to the concept of passing off, a claim in Canada needs to consist of three components: "… the existence of goodwill, deception of the public due to a misrepresentation and actual or potential damage to the plaintiff ".

The first component is goodwill in the name 'Vancouver Community College' and 'VCC', which, putting it into more simple terms, amounts to "…the positive association that attracts customers towards the owner’s wares or services rather than those of its competitor". In particular to names, this requires specific recognition in a primary sense of the name in the relevant marketplace as distinctive to that entity. The Court rejected the notion from the Supreme Court of BC had erred in required an additional secondary meaning, as only the primary meaning would be needed to establish goodwill in 'VCC'. Having considered the evidence submitted at first instance, the Court determined that the Supreme Court had erred in their finding of no goodwill (overstating the scope of evidence to the contrary, and failing to consider a body of evidence to the positive), and that there indeed was goodwill in the acronym at the relevant time.


Keywords can be quite "persuasive" (Source: Dilbert)
The second component is confusion, i.e. deception through misrepresentation to the relevant public causing confusion in the minds of the public as a likely consequence of the impugned actions. Justice Saunders, handing down the Court's unanimous decision, saw that the Supreme Court erred in their assessment of confusion in the case, as "… confusion is fully established by proof that the respondent’s domain name is equally descriptive of the appellant and contains the acronym long associated to it". The Supreme Court determined that confusion was only achieved when the searcher arrived at the website's landing page, and not before the fact. While Justice Saunders did see that the mere existence of the acronym was enough to cause confusion, the bidding for keywords containing the full name or the acronym would not cause confusion as "… the critical factor in the confusion component is the message communicated by the defendant. Merely bidding on words, by itself, is not delivery of a message. What is key is how the defendant has presented itself, and in this the fact of bidding on a keyword is not sufficient to amount to a component of passing off".

The Court then moved on to consider damage caused to the plaintiff, which, according to Justice Saunders, can include damage to one's goodwill or loss of control of that same goodwill (i.e. there is not necessarily a need for actual monetary damage). Concluding her judgment on passing off, Justice Saunders did indeed confirm that Vancouver Community College had suffered damage to their goodwill, and that Vancouver Career College had passed off their services.

Finally, the Court looked at whether the registered trademarks had been infringed under section 9 and section 11 of the Trade-marks Act. Justice Saunders dealt with this matter briefly, and saw that "… there are too many factual determinations and outstanding issues" for the Court to determine and that the matter is best remitted back to the Supreme Court for fresh consideration.

Ultimately, the Court of Appeal issued a permanent injunction against Vancouver Career College for the use of the acronym 'VCC' and 'VCCollege' in its Internet presence. The matter of damages and the breach of the trademarks were to be looked at by the Supreme Court.

The case is quite the interesting one, and the Court's considerations in terms of confusion seems to focus on the searcher's viewing of the results page, rather than the viewing of the landing page after clicking a link. It did, however, entrench the determination that the purchasing of keywords incorporating others' marks would be wholly acceptable in Canada, which does leave rightsholders somewhat exposed.

Source: JDSupra