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Tax-funded Canadian Broadcasting Corp sues Conservatives for using debate footage

Martin M. Barillas Martin M. Barillas Follow Martin

OTTAWA, October 17, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — The Canadian Broadcasting Corp., which is tax-funded and government-owned, is suing the Conservative Party for broadcasting television commercials featuring clips from a televised political debate.

The CBC is alleging that the Conservative Party is violating the “moral rights” of the debate hosts and infringing on copyright protections. The lawsuit came two weeks away from a national election to decide on the next prime minister. The video clips in question showed reporter John Paul Tasker and news anchor Rosemary Barton. The CBC is seeking an injunction to restrain the Conservatives from using the video material.

Funded by taxpayers and some advertising revenue, the CBC is a federal corporation in Canada. For many years, the CBC was not only the principal broadcaster in Canada, but also a regulator that decided on issues related to broadcasting. It now controls most of the broadcasting licenses in Canada. Operating under a board of directors, it is beholden to the Liberal-controlled national parliament.

Canadians go to the polls on Monday, October 21.

Once the video excerpts were prohibited by the CBC, they were moved to the Conservative Party website. However, they have since disappeared from there as well. The Conservative Party website declared, “The Conservative party has grave concern that this decision was made on the eve of an election that CBC is to be covering fairly and objectively. The Conservative party considers this a complete distraction in the final days of a tightly contested election, and we will dispute this lawsuit fully.” The statement added, “The 17 seconds of CBC clips in the video included (Postmedia columnist) Andrew Coyne highlighting how Justin Trudeau broke the law, Justin Trudeau telling a Canadian war veteran that he is ‘asking for more than we can give right now,’ and one CBC reporter questioning why the Liberals provided Loblaws with $12 million in tax dollars to install new refrigerators.”

According to the Conservative Party, since the Loblaws project is funded “entirely” by tax dollars, taxpayers should be allowed to use the footage. Loblaws is a Canadian food store chain that received a subsidy to purchase refrigerators, prompting complaints that the government was favoring a large corporation over mom-and-pop stores whose owners’ taxes funded the project.

University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist wrote on his website that the Conservatives have a “strong case” for making “fair use” of the CBC material. Geist wrote that the CBC’s copyright infringement claim is based on “an odd collection of unconvincing arguments, including the notion that clips from the debate might lead someone to think that the CBC is biased, contrary to its obligations under the Broadcasting Act.” Geist noted that the federal lawsuit claimed that the Conservatives infringed on copyright law back in 2015, too. He wrote: “There are strong fair dealing arguments in favour [of] reasonable usage. 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.”

Geist wrote that the broadcaster 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.”

Faced with public reaction to the lawsuit, according to Toronto Sun opinion writer Warren Kinsella, the CBC “plans to remove the journalists from the lawsuit.” Kinsella explained, “After all, how the CBC handles a news story — how it writes it, how it edits it, how it headlines and promotes it — can destroy a political career in short order. The CBC has said it was the ‘driver’ behind the lawsuit, not the journalists.”

“Whether they intended it or not,” Kinsella continued, “the CBC and Barton and Tasker have provided clear evidence of an appalling bias. They have shown they are utterly disinterested in being fair. That lawsuit wasn’t a legal action. Given that the Tories now may win the election, it was a political suicide note.”

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