Tag Archives: Law

Own a photocopier, get sued

In the “are you sure that wasn’t in the Onion first?” files, Access Copyright, a Canadian copyright licensing agency, is suing Staples/Business Depot/Bureau en Gros for copyright infringement, to the tune of $10 million.

Their argument (and I use the term loosely) seems to be that because the chain has a photocopying service, it is profiting off the illegal photocopying going on in its stores and is liable for contributory infringement.

Welcome to the post-Napster world folks, where simply offering people the tools to commit copyright infringement somehow makes you guilty. Next up, we can expect photocopying machine makers, paper mills and ink manufacturers, as well as the retailers who sell them, to get handed court papers. Now that personal responsibility is dead, everyone else is guilty. The bar owner is responsible if someone drives home drunk. Railroad companies are responsible if someone gets hit by a train.

If this had been brought up 10 years ago, I wouldn’t have given it a second thought. But then the DMCA brought in the idea that manufacturing the “tools” to infringe copyright circumvent access or copy protection mechanisms (thanks Jonathan) was also against the law. Napster was shut down, Jon Johansen was arrested (charged, and later acquitted) and anyone involved in facilitating the distribution of content was living a life of fear.

Fortunately in Canada, we’re a bit more sane when it comes to copyright law. The Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that Internet service providers were not responsible for copyright infringement that merely passed through their servers.

It’s also hard to prove that, just because someone’s photocopying a copyrighted work, they plan on selling it or redistributing it to others against the law. (For that matter, do people still infringe copyrights using photocopiers for anything other than university textbooks? It seems so 10-years-ago.)

Michael Geist, naturally, has some brief thoughts on the matter. He agrees Access Copyright has a very big hill to climb to make its case. (UPDATE Nov. 19: Now that he’s seen the suit, he sees it as a “sure loser”)

Insanity = genius

Frankly, I welcome this lawsuit (though I think it would be better to see it in the U.S.). Courts can’t simply rely on the fact that Napster was so obviously profiting off copyright infringement to set the bar for these kinds of cases. The slippery slope has to be travelled until they realize that tools that can be used to do illegal things should not themselves be illegal.

At some point, jurisprudence will have to live up to the fact that we’ve already passed reductio ad absurdum.

Greek flag is visual pollution

Theodore Antonopoulos, the Pierrefonds resident and soccer fan who painted a Greek flag onto his garage door and then had to fight the city to keep it there, has lost a court battle in which he claimed that a by-law prohibiting signs of that nature violated his right to free expression.

The Pierrefonds bylaw (By-Law 1047 Article 124.2) prohibits “a sign that is painted or reproduced on a building, part of a building or a fence.”

The legal argument centred around two questions:

  1. Is a flag a sign? Should the striped pattern of the Greek flag be treated no differently than a Viagra advertisement?
  2. Does it unnecessarily violate our freedoms to prevent someone from painting something on property they own merely because the painting’s content violates your taste?

Antonopoulos lost on both counts. The judge’s summation is telling:

People cannot paint just what they want on their homes, what about the aesthetic aspect?

What if everyone painted their sports team, their country flag, even Mickey Mouse on their home? If everyone expresses their patriotism, that is visual pollution and not harmonious to the neighbourhood.

Though I think it’s debatable whether a city’s desire for boring suburban conformity neighbourhood aesthetics should trump the freedom to do as you wish with your property.

But here’s my question: What if he’d just painted stripes on his garage? Or, say, the flag of Libya? Is that a “sign” or just a colour choice? At what point does a painting design on your garage have enough content to allow it to be restricted?

UPDATE (Dec. 10): He’s appealing.

Fabrikant gets his way

It’s said there is a fine line between insanity and genius. Valery Fabrikant is a textbook example of this.

Fabrikant was a very smart man who became an engineering professor at Concordia University. When he became frustrated with the academic backstabbing going on at the department, he decided to start killing his colleagues. To this day he feels he was justified in doing so.

He’s in court again, a decade and a half after the shootings (for which he was convicted and is serving a life sentence), to follow through with a lawsuit he filed before the killing spree began. Throughout the proceedings, he has been acting like a lunatic, insulting the judge, raising frivolous objections and basically doing everything you’re not supposed to do in court (including, of course, representing yourself). His more immediate goal was to get the judge to recuse himself from the case, claiming the judge stopped listening to his incomprehensible ramblings.

And it worked.

The judge, fed up of the insults, finally gave in and removed himself from the case. His reasoning was that he can no longer be counted on to be impartial because Fabrikant has gotten on his nerves so much.

I guess that’s one tactic you’ll see taught in law schools now: If you don’t like the judge presiding over your case, insult and annoy him until he throws in the towel. Or maybe you’ll just see it on a Boston Legal episode.

So: Insanity, or genius?

UPDATE (Nov. 27): The next judge dismisses the case, calling it frivolous. So insanity it is.

Irving really doesn’t like competition

The CBC has a story this week about how the Irving Family (which owns New Brunswick) is suing a former manager who is starting a competing paper.

Though a search of William Kenneth Langdon’s home found documents from the Woodstock Bugle-Observer, he swears he just forgot about them and anyway they would be useless in making a newspaper.

Besides the stupidity of having such documents at your home, don’t managers leave for competing news media all the time? Imagine what would happen if they could all be sued for it.

This case, of course, takes on added meaning because Langdon is starting a new newspaper in a province where every major newspaper is owned by one company. And he left the old paper because of Irving’s ruthless anti-competitive activities. In the end, the Irvings come out looking like megalomaniac supervillains of comical evility.

But perhaps more important, is Woodstock, New Brunswick (pop. 5,000) really the town in that province most in need of a second competing newspaper?

UPDATE (Oct. 26): J-Source gives a roundup of some more coverage of the case, including allegations that Irving papers aren’t reporting on it fairly.

UPDATE (Nov. 5): J-Source’s Deb Jones says Langdon has won a court case and will be allowed to compete against Irving’s papers.

Can’t we just agree that the Charter amendment is a stupid idea?

Can we stop with the news stories about the moronic idea from the Quebec Council on the Status of Women to ban hijabs and change the Charter to make gender equality rights trump religious belief?

Apparently not, as more politicians with the foresight of moths are actually getting behind it, already coming up with ways of ranking our fundamental rights.

It goes without saying that experts with brains oppose the amendment, for the simple reason that when we start saying some rights are less important than others, we begin de-valuing them. They also point out that religious rights don’t trump those of gender equality, and changing the Charter in such a way would not fix the problem, but likely have tons of other unintended consequences.

And even if that obvious flaw hadn’t been pointed out, it’s not like making the change would suddenly cause devout Muslim women to run out into the streets in bikinis, thanking us for allowing them the privilege of dressing immodestly.

It’s a horrible solution that fails to solve a non-problem. Let’s just agree to that and move on.

I’m unconvinced no-fault insurance has to go

The Gazette’s Max Harrold has an interesting feature today on Quebec’s no-fault driving insurance system. He asks whether or not we should consider eliminating it and allowing victims of vehicular injuries to sue in cases where negligence or recklessness directly leads to serious injury or death. It features three interviews with grieving family members (the third is the mother of Jessica Holman-Price, who was killed by a dump truck turning a corner). All three want the law changed so the guilty pay the innocent instead of getting compensation from the government. (See comment below)

The no-fault system is pretty simple: Everyone’s a part of it, drivers can’t sue each other even if one is clearly at fault, and anyone who sustains an injury gets compensated. In exchange, Quebec has Canada’s lowest insurance premium rates.

But the problem, as the article points out, is that even in cases of dangerous driving (speeding) and impaired driving (drunk driving), perpetrator and victim are treated the same, both compensated based on their level of injury. Only criminal charges can be brought, which then result in probation or light sentences.

Despite the opinions of the families (and really, it’s kind of hard to argue with a grieving widow or mother), I remain unconvinced. It’s not that there isn’t a problem of justice here, but I think other methods are more likely to solve it:

  1. Impose stiffer sentences for drunk driving and dangerous driving, especially when such actions result in death. Speed racing that causes death, for example, should be considered homicide. Make license suspensions longer or even permanent in extreme cases.
  2. Use Manitoba’s system where drivers convicted of criminal charges related to an accident have to pay back any compensation they’ve been given as a result.
  3. Increase the number of police cars on the road so these accidents don’t happen in the first place.
  4. Find some way of forcing those found guilty of criminal offenses to pay the innocent, either by imposing a fine or by allowing lawsuits only when serious convictions have taken place.

Nobody wants to get into a car accident. Even those who are insanely reckless don’t expect to crash. So nothing will seriously act as a deterrent to accidents causing injury (though there are ways to attack the causes of those accidents).
In the end, no-fault insurance isn’t always perfectly fair, but it’s a compromise that keeps lawyers from sucking out all our money after we’ve already been hurt.

Fabrikant makes serial killers look bad

Most school campus shoot-em-up maniacs have the decency to kill themselves before they’re arrested: Harris and Klebold, Cho, Gill. But Valery Fabrikant, the paranoid Concordia engineering professor who killed four of his colleagues in 1992, was arrested and tried for the murders and is in prison. His first chance for parole won’t come for another 10 years.
But jail (and a lack of access to computers) hasn’t stopped him from publishing articles, updating a website, appealing, appealing, appealing, appealing, appealing, appealing, appealing, appealing and otherwise reminding his victims’ families that he’s sitting comfortably in jail while his victims are still dead.

So you can imagine the gall this guy has to sue his former colleagues for $600,000 for their actions that somehow forced him to go on a shooting rampage. He’s demanding access to his computer so he can pursue his case.

Considering he has a 0% success rate in court (mostly because he represents himself), I don’t think anyone has much to worry about. But it’s still annoying that we have to keep hearing from this guy.

Cellphone user wants his fees back

I’ve always found it odd that Canadian wireless consumers are forced to pay a “system access fee” of about $7 every month on top of their rate plan. It sounds like something that should just be included in the plan itself. I mean, would you accept it if Wal-Mart imposed a mandatory cashier’s fee, or if the public transit authorities started charging you a monthly fee for accessing their network?

Virgin Mobile is one of the few companies not to charge this fee. Their service is more expensive, but at least it’s honest, and it doesn’t force you into 3-year contracts.

Well it seems the dishonesty of telling someone a plan is worth $20 a month when it’s actually $30 plus tax has hit a nerve. Hou-Hou points us to a story about a Regina lawyer whose lawsuit has just gained class-action status.

It’s potentially the largest class-action in Canadian history, and it goes after the three cellphone giants at once, who will no doubt throw about a quadrillion lawyers on the case.

So … good luck with that.

Balcony BBQ taboo

Did you know it’s illegal to barbecue on a balcony in Côte-Saint-Luc?

Apparently the law isn’t really enforced, and politicians are looking at ways to change it, according to The Chronicle’s Martin Barry (who uses three different spellings for “barbecue”).

What’s interesting about the law is its motivation. It’s not the act of barbecuing on balconies that’s dangerous, it’s taking propane tanks up elevators. So now they’re considering allowing people to take propane tanks up elevators if they’re alone.

If propane tanks on elevators are the problem, why not just restrict propane tanks on elevators?

(There’s also the point that fire truck ladders only go so high — which worries me because even propane-less apartments may need them someday — and that tanks are necessarily stored too close to the building’s doors and windows.)

Even if the laws are meant to stop real dangers, can’t we make them a bit more common-sense?

Unions can be sued for protest inconvenience

A judge has ruled that a 2003 blue-collar protest which tied up traffic downtown inconvenienced Montrealers significantly enough that they should be compensated. In a judgement on a class-action suit from Boris Coll, the judge ordered the union to give $1.16 million to charity (determining individual compensation was deemed too impractical).

Reaction has been mixed. The Gazette calls it a victory for regular people who should be able to travel freely without inconvenient traffic jams. Dennis Trudeau, meanwhile, worries about future protesters getting sued because their marches might cause traffic disruption.

Both sides have reasonable points, but I have to side with Trudeau. A traffic jam is an inconvenience, but there’s no constitutional right to free roadways. There is, however, a right to assemble, protest and express yourselves on political issues. The latter right should take precedence.

Protesters already wear masks and keep their routes secret because they fear police repression. Making these things actionable is just going to drive them further into lawlessness and make those protesters angrier.

Become part of the Google landscape

Google’s Street View is in the process of collecting pictures of Montreal streets. When complete, Google Maps will be able to show street-level photos of major cities in Canada like it does for New York and San Francisco.

Street View works by having someone in a car with lots of cameras on the roof drive through the city and take pictures. They’re then thrown into a giant database which creates a street view you can move around in.

Of course, if you happen to be walking along a street when the car passes by, you’ll become a permanent part of the view of that street. And that can lead to some embarrassing pictures.

Canada’s privacy commissioner has already raised concerns that, because Google doesn’t ask permission before taking photos, they might be violating Canada’s privacy laws.

Arresting the homeless doesn’t cure homelessness

Kate points me to this Hour story about the increasing pressure placed on homeless people in this city. Banning dogs from parks. Banning people from parks overnight. Ticketing people for sleeping in the metro.

At the end of the article is mentioned a new tactic being used: forcing people who have been arrested to sign a document promising to stay out of the area as a condition of their release. The problem, of course, is that services aimed at the homeless are right there. (I’ve seen this technique used for other annoyances the police can’t get rid of legally: They tried to make activists Jaggi Singh, Samer Elatrash and Yves Engler sign  agreements that he wouldn’t participate in protests.)

I passed a woman begging at a metro station today. A friend gave her some spare change, despite it being clear from the woman’s behaviour that she was a drug abuser and that the money would probably go to feeding her habit. I didn’t. I don’t give money to beggars for exactly that reason.

But for crying out loud, let these people sleep in peace. If you’re worried about crime and drug use, put more police officers on duty and arrest people who are breaking the law. But nobody should be declared illegal just because you find them icky. And so-called “loitering” laws (loitering means “doing nothing”, which is the one right above all others that nobody should take away) should be done away with.

Our government is failing its poorest citizens. That’s an issue that needs to be tackled directly, not swept under the rug in the hopes it becomes some other borough’s problem.

A class action against Videotron?

Mere days after Videotron announced it was capping its “extreme” high-speed internet (but not its “extreme plus” high-speed service, which is $15 more a month a cap that’s curiously larger than its “extreme plus” service, with a much lower overage fee), the Union des consommateurs is trying to get a class-action lawsuit going against the company for false advertising and breach of contract.

If successful, such a suit would set a huge precedent for telecom companies changing the terms of their contracts. Currently these companies announce the change, give people 30 days to cancel (without fees), and any use after that time is considered to be acceptance of the change.

We’ll see how this plays out.

The TVboxset.com scam

This story from this morning’s Gazette is hilarious. Apparently customers are complaining that they’re being ripped off by Montreal-based TVboxset.com, which has been promising them great deals on DVDs of TV shows, and then never delivering them.

What’s interesting is that those who do get the DVDs delivered quickly find out that they’re low-quality pirated versions recorded straight off of cable (they even have the network logos in the corner).

A quick scan online shows plenty of other people with similar complaints. In some of them, a representative of the company responds with a form letter about “misplaced orders”, but never answers the charges of blatant pirating.

The article quotes him as saying they “buy bulk and resell”, and that they don’t verify stock before they send it out. As if any idiot couldn’t spot such obvious fakes from a hundred feet away.

Garcia Media Group, which owns the website, isn’t under investigation by the Quebec consumer protection bureau, because apparently nobody’s complained to them yet (isn’t bureaucracy wonderful?), the Better Business Bureau can’t do anything because the company isn’t a member, and the police won’t say whether they’re investigating. Only Canada Post is looking into the matter.

Hopefully, unless the claims that this is all a smear campaign from a competitor are true (right, sure), this company will be quickly shut down and its owners prosecuted before they scam more people.

UPDATE (Oct. 7): Slashdot has a story on the lack of action in this case.