IP Intensive Program: A Semester at SOCAN

In ten weeks at Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (SOCAN) I learned how to gamble on horses, how to create a shark costume out of an old sweater and some cardboard, the proper amount of food to eat at a Chinese buffet (three plates, including dessert), and to always fill out the Health and Fitness ballot (this intern won a hand-held massager!). Oh, and I also learned a lot about practising law.

For those who do not know, SOCAN is the copyright collective that represents composers, authors and publishers and administers their performing and communication rights. SOCAN is also involved in some of the largest copyright cases in Canada. In the much discussed “Copyright Pentalogy”, the organization was a party in a whopping three out of five Supreme Court of Canada decisions. SOCAN has tested the limits of fair dealing, ISP liability for copyright infringement, and the proper interpretation of the communication right in s. 3(1)(f) of the Copyright Act.

The legal department at SOCAN is one of the best places to learn how to be a lawyer. The staff are welcoming and incredibly helpful, even when a certain intern needed help with straightforward tasks, like how to operate the photocopier. There were also frequent legal team social events – like celebrating staff birthdays at local restaurants, or an afternoon out at the Woodbine racetrack for a bit of team building. And on Halloween, the whole office transformed into a haunted house, complete with recreations of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts, the Bates Motel, and a pumpkin patch. It’s the least stressful atmosphere for a student to practically apply what they’ve learned in the classroom.

In an academic setting, it is easy to compartmentalize the law into discrete subjects. Each course is taught as its own private island, and that is exactly what students expect when they pick their schedules. A copyright law exam is not going to have a question about privacy law (hopefully). But that is not the way it works in practice. Two months in an in-house setting will teach you that, over and over again.

For example, one of my first tasks at SOCAN was to review the legal implications of a potential service. The question covered a variety of topics, from privacy law to trademark law, with a few dashes of consumer protection law and copyright law thrown in for good measure. Even my assigned research tasks considered the various interactions of different legal topics.

I also learned about areas of the law that I had never thought about, like why contests in Canada have a skill-testing question, why you should be petrified of sky-diving (beyond the fact that it’s sky-diving), and the legal retention period for various types of documents (hint: it’s generally a long time and it’s not always clear).

Gaining a new perspective on copyright law was a welcome addition to my understanding of intellectual property. It is really easy to get caught up on painting copyright collectives with the same “anti-user” brush without a nuanced consideration of how the law looks from their perspective. The Copyright Act recently expanded fair dealing to include three new enumerated purposes (for a total of five), on top of the other exceptions to copyright infringement like criticism and news reporting, and the public performance exemptions for religious, educational, and charitable organizations. From the perspective of a user, there can never be enough “user’s rights.” From the perspective of a copyright owner, it can be difficult to determine when licences are needed.

There was one moment near the end of my internship when my supervisor recounted all the work I had done thus far. I had worked on projects for four different departments, drafted a Statement of Claim and demand letters for litigation files, provided several research memos on various legal questions, prepared materials for a conference on user-generated content, and summarized the relevant legal requirements for two statutes.

I had not realized how much I had accomplished during my short stint at SOCAN, probably because I had such a great time doing it. The free CDs helped too. 

Fraser Turnbull 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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