IP Intensive Progam: The Canadian Broadcasting Experience - Ten Weeks at the CBC

When I applied to participate in the Osgoode Intellectual Property and Technology Intensive Program, I was looking for a practical learning experience that would combine my legal interests with my background in the arts. Not surprisingly, I was thrilled when I heard that I had been placed at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The opportunity to learn from and contribute to an organization whose radio and television programming I had grown up with and continue to enjoy had me excited and a little nervous. This was the first time the CBC had offered a placement with the program so I wasn’t sure what to expect. However, from the moment I arrived, I was enthusiastically welcomed into the busy and exciting legal department at the Toronto Broadcast Centre.

As Canada’s national broadcaster, every aspect of the CBC’s business involves intellectual property law. The CBC produces and acquires news, sports, comedy, drama, entertainment and reality programming for radio, television and online platforms in every corner of the country and in both official languages. Award winning investigative programs like The Fifth Estate, news greats like Peter Mansbridge, the political satire and comedy of This Hour Has 22 Minutes and The Rick Mercer Report, and the arts and culture programming of George Stroumboulopoulos and Jian Ghomeshi all call the CBC home. The CBC’s content is as broad and diverse as the country it serves.  

My experiences at the CBC proved to be just as varied. Over the ten-week internship period, I received assignments from lawyers in both the business and media law groups. The work focused on legal research, document review, and drafting on matters related to copyright and trademark licensing and infringement, fair dealing, moral rights and incidental use. I was also reminded that legal issues, especially in the in-house context, don’t confine themselves to the subject headings that show up on a course timetable. Accordingly, the work also touched on contract law, commercial law, procurement, corporate law, trusts, competition law, privacy law, evidence, civil procedure, defamation, and publication bans. These issues were made all the more interesting from CBC’s position as a Crown corporation created by the Broadcasting Act. The projects I was involved in varied in size as well, from small standard service agreements to the International Olympic Committee Media Rights Agreement designating CBC as the Official Canadian Broadcaster of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.

I had the opportunity to participate in meetings with the full legal department teleconferencing in from three locations (Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal) while brushing up on my language skills as the conversation volleyed back and forth between French and English. I sat in on lawyers’ exchanges with executives, producers, journalists, and external counsel. I witnessed how stories are vetted for broadcast and publication, and attended live radio and television tapings. All these experiences provided me with a strong understanding of how a legal department operates within a large organization and facilitates its many activities.

I expected to come away from this experience with more practical legal knowledge (as well as the ability to correctly spell Stroumboulopoulos and Ghomeshi). Even more than that though, I gained an understanding of the importance that non-legal considerations have on legal practice. I saw first-hand that legal research isn’t useful unless it can be conveyed to non-lawyers who are making decisions on a daily basis. Furthermore, I learned that legal advice isn’t helpful unless it takes into account practical realities, business and public relations considerations, and the ethical, journalistic and community standards relevant to the situation at hand. Lastly, I realized that the law can act as a tool to facilitate the kind of risk-taking that is celebrated in journalism and in the arts, not merely to discourage it.

The opportunity to understand these concepts and observe the ways in which they are carried out on a daily basis was an invaluable experience that I couldn’t have received in the classroom. The ability to gain those insights in the context of an organization that defines as much as it reflects our country, surrounded by individuals with an obvious passion for what they do was so much more than I could have asked for. The occasional run in with David Suzuki or Ron McLean didn’t hurt either. My semester at the CBC has been an inspiring and exciting highlight of my time at Osgoode.

Quinn Harris is a JD Candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School and was enrolled in Osgoode’s Intellectual Property Law Intensive Program. As part of the program requirements, students were asked to write a reflective blog on their internship experience.

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