Thursday, February 22, 2007

Michelin Man v speech

I learn from Ariel Katz (University of Toronto), via a fascinating discussion on the Cyberprofs list on the nature of intellectual property, of an interesting 1996 Canadian federal court case. Michelin successfully sued the Canadian Auto Workers Union for copyright infringement. The union had produced promotional leaflets for a recruitment drive, which featured a picture of the Michelin man (also called "Bibendum") stamping on a non union worker.

The court sided with the company since the union had copied the Michelin man and the copying did not qualify as parody or fair dealing since they had ridiculed the Michelin man. The union had also argued that if they were guilty of copyright infringement the Canadian copyright laws must be unconstitutional, since they undermined the union's freedom of expression. On this last point the court ruled that the Michelin man was the company's private property and just as the union had no right to trespass on someone's land to protest against them, they were “not permitted to appropriate the Plaintiff’s private property—the “Bibendum” copyright—as a vehicle for conveying their anti-Michelin message.”

A classic case of the conflict between intellectual property and free speech getting resolved in favour of the former. I suspect there would be a clear blue line between union sympathisers and employers on whether they felt the decision was right or wrong.

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