While I never did manage to “accidentally” bump into Peter Mansbridge in the halls or make it onto TV, I would say I still had a great experience as an intern in the CBC’s Law Department. My time with our national broadcaster as part of Osgoode’s Intellectual Property Law & Technology Intensive Program was not only invaluable legal experience, it was also thoroughly enjoyable. As an intern, I had the opportunity to see and work on the wide range of legal issues dealt with by in-house counsel. Working with both the business and media law departments, I was involved in dealing with intellectual property, contracts, regulations, contests, advertising, social media, and advertising, to name a few.
The placement certainly gave me an appreciation for the role played by in-house lawyers at a large and complex organisation like CBC. The Law Department deals with so much more than just intellectual property matters and has to balance the business and journalistic interests of the corporation with a myriad of legal issues. CBC’s role as the national public broadcaster also means that in-house counsel must engage with a variety of stakeholder and corporate interests, very high internal and ethical standards, and the corporation’s public role and duties (not to mention the provisions set out in the Broadcasting Act).
Especially in the age of the 24-hour news cycle and rapidly breaking stories, in-house counsel has to be available and ready with answers in short order. The media lawyers vet stories across diverse platforms, from the news on CBC.ca to shows like Marketplace and The Fifth Estate. Issues range from privacy to defamation and are never the same in two productions.
It is easy to forget that CBC is more than just television, radio, and a website – it is a (Crown) corporation too. As a result, the business lawyers play an important role in both what Canadians see from CBC and what goes on behind the scenes. My work with them alone included issues with advertising and product placement, copyright and fair dealing, contracts, and contests – and they do a lot more than that.
One of the most important takeaways from watching this is how important it is for lawyers in this type of role to ditch the legalese for more comprehensible and digestible legal advice. On the business side, dealing with departments ranging from digital to marketing, and on the media side dealing with journalists and producers, it is essential to be able to communicate clearly about the legal issues. That also means that they have a lot of competing, or at least different, interests to consider when making decisions. What might be a good journalistic move is not always a good legal one, and vice-versa. So watching discussions between the Law Department and other CBC units really gave me an appreciation for how the practice of law involves many more factors than the law itself. Like it or not, law is a business.
Something else that really struck me is how much social media features in the legal issues of an organisation like CBC (and no doubt many others today). On both the business and media side, I spent time doing research related to CBC’s presence on and use of sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The online world provides a whole host of new legal issues, many of which legislation has yet to catch up with.
The potential benefits of social media, such as broad dissemination of stories, public outreach, and increased advertising come with many potential pitfalls, like privacy issues and anti-spam laws. Maybe it is not so surprising, then, how often the Law Department is faced with related questions. To me, it certainly seems as if these sorts of considerations will play a major role in law practice, both on-house and elsewhere, for the foreseeable future.
My time at CBC was undoubtedly the most valuable experience I have had during law school. Not only was it thoroughly enjoyable, it was also phenomenal practical legal experience. I was able to improve my legal skills, such as drafting and research, while learning how IP (and other) law differs in and out of the classroom. My placement was also a reminder that the law stretches far beyond Bay Street into the arts, entertainment, journalism, and so much more.
It was a pleasure and a privilege to spend a semester at CBC and I am grateful for the entire legal team for the experience.
Sebastian Beck-Watt is Senior Editor of the IPilogue and 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.