Copyright in the Supreme Court of Canada in December 2013: Cinar v. Robinson

It’s not everyday that the Supreme Court of Canada deals with copyright issues. In late December 2013, the court issued its decision in Cinar Corporation v. Robinson.

The facts first. The educational children’s tv show, The Adventures of Robinson Curiosity, was created by Robinson. He wrote the scripts and synopses, created the characters, drew detailed sketches and storyboards, and designed promotional materials. Robinson never created a tv series based on all of his work. Cinar did create a series; Robinson sued Cinar for basing its tv series (called Robinson Sucroë) on Robinson’s work. Robinson claimed that Cinar’s show had many non-literal similarities in characters and their environment.

The Quebec Court awarded substantial damages; that decision was affirmed for the most part by the Quebec Court of Appeal. Which brings up to the Supreme Court of Canada decision. The Supreme Court ruled in favour of Robinson which leads us to the conclusion that a TV series can be protected without word-for-word copying.

Highlights from Cinar v. Robinson

Supreme Court of Canada ruling on copyright infringementBelow are some highlights from the court’s decision:

  • the Canadian Copyright Act “does not give the author a monopoly over ideas or elements from the public domain, which all are free to draw upon for their own works.”
  • an infringement takes place when a substantial part of a work is used without permission. The Court stated: “As a general proposition, a substantial part of a work is a part of the work that represents a substantial portion of the author’s skill and judgment expressed therein.”
  • “A substantial part of a work is not limited to the words on the page or the brushstrokes on the canvas. The Act protects authors against both literal and non-literal copying, so long as the copied material forms a substantial part of the infringed work.”
  • the Court stated that what is important in a copyright infringement case is the extent of the similarities between the two works in questions, and not the extent of the differences.

Click here to read the Supreme Court of Canada case Cinar Corporation v. Robinson.

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