Wednesday, December 16, 2009

CanWest: still SLAPPing people around

I first posted about this classic persecution of the little guy (and gal) by a corporate bully more than a year and a half ago. I did so in the context of a discussion of Canadian trademark and copyright law, beefed up by some reading suggested by lawyer Bob Tarantino, and then let the matter drop.

I wish I hadn't, because CanWest is still at it. The issue is this: back in June 2007, some Vancouver pro-Palestinian activists published a parody edition of the Vancouver Sun, making a few choice points about CanWest's pro-Israel bias. CanWest immediately filed suit: against Mordecai Briemberg (who had merely distributed a few copies of the send-up), Gordon Murray and Carel Moiseiwitsch.

Under Canada's antiquated laws, parody or satire do not constitute "fair use" of intellectual property. This dubious state of affairs was set in stone by the Federal Court Trial Division in its 1996 decision, Michelin & Cie. v. CAW-Canada, in which the learned judges decided that a spoof of the Michelin Man by union organizers was an illegal use of that well-known trademark.

CanWest finally abandoned the suit against Briemberg, but is aggressively pursuing its action against the two others. In fact, it has since SLAPPed the two again for publishing a satire in 2002 that sent up the Vancouver Sun's coverage of the slash-and-burn policies of BC Liberal premier Gordon Campbell. (Are the time limits for filing suit really that lengthy?)

The intrepid duo is fighting back with humour:

But obviously there is a serious side to this relentless persecution: real people are under the iron heel of a major corporation, simply for publishing satire. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, the corporate media, including the CBC, have been wary of reporting on this case.

In fact the "media chill" has been extraordinary: there has been a virtual blackout, although coverage of the Yes Men's spoof of the New York Times on November 12 received its share of media attention here.

Corporate solidarity? Or fear of being SLAPPed themselves? Either way, the press, TV and radio have fallen down badly on the job. A better example of collective media irresponsibility in Canada would be hard to find.

And meanwhile--I can't resist making this point once again--Canada's Speech Warriors™ have no difficulty with any of this. Human Rights Commissions interfering with speech--even hateful speech--is a fundamental assault on freedom of expression, they claim: but there's no problem, it seems, when the assault is privatized.


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