IP Intensive: Going the Distance (In Education) - Expanding my Legal Skills through a Semester at TVO

I must confess, I never thought having a background in children’s theatre performance would ever factor into my law school education. Although it was a lifetime ago that I was holding court before gymnasiums full of children; animating children’s books from the curriculum through songs, puppetry, and interactive storytelling, that experience proved a perfect platform to draw upon throughout my incredibly rewarding IP intensive placement at TVO, Ontario’s distance education provider and award winning educational broadcaster.

TVO is both a registered charitable non-profit organization, and a crown corporation, but it only receives about a third of its funding from the province. The rest of its budget is comprised primarily of donations and self-generated revenue. Though most of TVO’s education, broadcasting, and philanthropy teams operate within their own spheres, each strives to produce cutting edge digital educational courses, educational content, and community engagement initiatives, to develop self-generated revenue which is subsequently reinvested in TVO.

Working closely with two in-house counsel lawyers and a team of business affairs officers, I was called upon to perform research and offer advice on a variety of projects. For me, the greatest value in this internship was the breadth of experience I received from not only advising on copyright and trademark matters, but also from plunging headfirst into a diverse variety of development projects from the various working groups within TVO. I was called upon to provide input on everything from; researching SOCAN fees for TVO’s YouTube channels, advising on lease agreements, drafting copyright clearance extensions for content offered through the Independent Learning Center (TVO’s distance education branch), creating PowerPoint presentations explaining how Privacy legislation and Accessibility legislation affect TVO’s business operations, and everything in between.

For example, when I began my placement in September, TVO had just unveiled its brand new, innovative math based educational tool; mPower. This educational tool is helping educators make a profound impact in their ability to engage students by building fundamental knowledge of math concepts through an immersive video game virtual world. Some of my responsibilities for this project included providing feedback on copyright clearance questions regarding the outsourcing of voice over content in the game, to fielding concerns from the IT department regarding the applicability of Ontario’s new accessibility laws for public service organizations, and whether this legislation would affect TVO’s ability to promote mPower. It was very satisfying for me to help advise on this project that was having such a positive impact in children’s educational development.

This isn’t to say that I wasn’t involved in a substantial amount of IP work either, quite the contrary. Although I was supporting in-house counsel’s oversight of the business operations affecting TVO at large (which required a rapid grasp of many legal concepts fairly quickly – a challenging and exciting dilemma), much of my time at TVO was spent dealing with IP issues. These included reviewing copyright license agreements, negotiating TVO’s website and YouTube streaming rights for broadcast acquisitions, and providing research and advice on a pressing trademark dispute, which was by far the most exciting IP issue I engaged with.

Though TVO’s brand maintains a widely respected reputation as being extremely above board, this does not mean that TVO won’t vigorously defend their official marks if they are being infringed. This dispute provided me an exciting opportunity to look closely at section 9 of the Trade-Marks Act, which outlines the unique protection awarded official marks in Canada. Through my research I was able to provide in-depth advice on how the adoption and use analysis for official marks differs from trademarks, and provide context regarding recent judicial trends addressing this distinction with greater scrutiny. I was also tasked with creating a first draft of a statement of claim for infringement of this official mark. Working to help resolve this issue was certainly one of the highlights of my internship, as my input formed part of the first line of attack, so to speak, taking the lead on the initial legal research and argumentation to support TVO’s position.

In the end this internship provided me incredible insight into what it takes to succeed as in-house legal counsel to a public broadcaster. My time at TVO gave me an array of practical skills that I would have never gleaned from a classroom. Being immersed in TVO’s culture of ‘Never Stop Learning’ is without a doubt the guiding paradigm that helped me get the most from my placement, and will continue to inspire me as I develop my legal career.

 

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

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