CBC and Rosemary Barton are suing Conservative Party of Canada for copyright infringement

The CBC and The National host Rosemary Barton are suing the Conservative Party of Canada for copyright infringement over the CBC clips used on its “Not as Advertised” website attacking Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and for using CBC debate clips on the CPC Twitter feed.

Graeme Gordon Montreal QC

The CBC and The National host Rosemary Barton are suing the Conservative Party of Canada for copyright infringement over CBC clips used on the CPC’s “Not as Advertised” website attacking Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, as well as for using CBC debate clips on the CPC Twitter feed.

“The CBC obviously has rights as the copyright owner in its broadcast, but those rights are constrained by limitations and exceptions under the law that allow for use of its work without the need for further permission,” said University of Ottawa copyright law professor Michael Geist in a blog post, arguing the Conservative’s had the right under fair dealing to use the CBC excerpts, much like CBC borrows pieces of others’ work in its reporting.

The lawsuit was filed on Thursday and argues the CPC violated the moral rights of CBC journalists John Paul Tasker and Rosemary Barton and its use of CBC content could confuse viewers to believe the public broadcaster is biased for the Conservatives, which goes against the public braodcaster’s mandate.

Ironically, many Canadians have instead been accusing the CBC of being biased for the Trudeau Liberals, including the journalism of Barton herself, who has a history of showing favouritism for the Liberal leader and his government, including taking an affectionate selfie with Trudeau to share on social media as well as asking him friendly frivolous questions in an end of year interview in 2018.

Barton has also made recent partial comments live on air, such as how the Trudeau government’s large deficits don’t matter or that the RCMP are “just asking a few questions” regarding the SNC Lavalin scandal investigation.

“Moreover, the claim over short clips over debate footage is enormously troubling, considering both the importance of broad dissemination of the debate and the fact that the debate involves little specific contribution for any individual broadcaster,” continued Geist in his post assessing the lawsuit. “CBC has an unfortunate history of overzealous use of copyright to stifle freedom of expression and that approach appears to have reared its head yet again as the 2019 campaign hits the home stretch.”

CBC’s lawsuit has had a chilling effect, with the video under question already being pulled from the CPC’s YouTube channel.

In 2015, Barton’s predecessor and mentor Peter Mansbridge also complained to CBC management about the CPC using some interview footage between him and Trudeau that included an embarrassing response from the Liberal leader in response to the Boston Bombing attack.

Mansbridge himself has been questioned for his partiality for the Liberals after his fawning interview with Trudeau the day he was sworn in as PM and his close friendship with Liberal partisan Bruce Anderson, who he regularly had on The National when he was the host.

Other political parties routinely use clips from broadcasters and haven’t typically been sued.

Outside of this recent action, the CBC has also been called out for multiple other instances of favourable Liberal connections or actions.

CBC journalist and parliamentary press gallery member Katie Simpson, for example, was questioned on why she would use a picture of a smiling Trudeau as her background on Twitter. (She’s since changed it.)

The CBC is also still collaborating with a survey company–that also received lucrative contracts from the Liberal government–to create its Vote Compass, an unscientific survey that tells voters which party they are most aligned with and in the past has been accused of favouring the Liberals.

Last week another CBC journalist wrote an incorrect “analysis” piece that claimed the B.C. carbon tax was revenue neutral, the same claim the Liberals are making about their own carbon tax, which Barton tweeted out. It took the public broadcaster 18 hours to properly correct the mistake and neither the journalist who wrote it or Barton made note of it online after sharing incorrect information.

During the 2015 election, Trudeau promised the CBC an additional $150 million annually to its well over a billion it receives in government subsidies annually.

During the campaign, Trudeau himself also joked about how his government would always provide preferential treatment to the CBC, while passing forward poutine.

On Thursday night, Barton questioned whether other journalists are legitimate, this after a court forced Trudeau government appointed Leaders’ debate commission to allow journalists who were critical of Trudeau into the event.

In response to the lawsuit, the Conservative party has sent out a mailer in which it argues it has the right to use short clips from the CBC.

When CPC Leader Andrew Scheer ran for the Conservative leadership he said he would scrap the CBC News division, but he has since backtracked on that promise, instead saying CBC needs to refocus on Canadian stories.

Mainstream journalists such as media critic and Canadaland founder Jesse Brown have said the CPC is completely within the realm of fair dealing and it not violating copyright.


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