Attack ads: no permission needed
A leaked internal PowerPoint presentation shows the federal Conservatives are considering a change to the Copyright Act of Canada to allow “political actors” to freely use news clippings and TV footage in their advertisements without permission.
The document says the proposed amendment would remove the need for broadcasters to authorize use of their content, but wouldn’t affect their discretion to choose what they air. Several of Canada’s major broadcasters have been exercising this ability. In May, CBC, Radio Canada, CTV, Rogers and Shaw Media sent a letter to all federal and provincial parties, warning they would “not accept any political advertisement which uses our content without our express authorization.”
Under section 335(1) of the Canada Elections Act, broadcasters are required to make advertising space available for purchase by political parties during the writ period of a general election. The Act also appoints an arbitrator who issues specific guidelines on the content of messages and deals with disputes between parties and broadcasters. According to arbitrator Peter Grant’s most recent guidelines, broadcasters can refuse to air an ad if it’s obscene or profane, exposes individuals or groups to hatred, or contravenes the law. Under the current rules, broadcasters’ hands may be tied when it comes to showing ads that use their content, with or without permission.
University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist suggested Canada’s current laws surrounding fair dealing may already protect political parties from copyright claims. Even if this proposed exception isn’t made, parties may continue to use news clips without permission anyways. Last year, a Conservative attack ad on Justin Trudeau took footage of the Liberal leader performing a striptease from The Huffington Post without permission.
Certainly, these developments look bleak for those who don’t believe political parties should be able to steal material from the networks one day and run ads on those same networks the next.