IP Intensive - How to Build a Law (Or an Exception): A Semester at Canadian Heritage

It is about becoming an expert. You have your research topic, you have ten weeks at your placement: go. At the end of your placement term as part of Osgoode’s Intellectual Property Law & Technology Intensive Program (IP Intensive) you present your findings—as the expert on the topic—to your colleagues and anyone in their network who may be interested in hearing what you have to say. My placement at the Copyright and International Trade Policy Branch at Canadian Heritage was an invaluable experience that may have altered the trajectory of my career. If you are interested at all in either policy or copyright, then Canadian Heritage is the place for you. Your internship will be guided by your research topic but the level of understanding you gain in your specific subject matter, copyright law and policy is unparalleled; you will be learning through focused study.

First, understanding the subject matter. My research topic was about a specific process that overlaps with artificial intelligence and which may lead to potential copyright infringement. My objective was to understand what the issues were and determine if there needed to be an exception in the Copyright Act for it – because you can’t recommend a law or an exception for something you do not understand. To assist in this objective, I was put in touch with people who could teach me more about AI, the surrounding issues around it, and areas I should look into. I was also encouraged to reach out to my own network and even sat through several online class sessions on AI until I understood the process itself and potential areas for copyright infringement.

Then, applying copyright law. You have to understand the statute and the relevant case law if your application of the law is going to have any true value. You may have taken Copyright in your law classes, but no exam will give you the understanding that applying the rules to a specific topic will provide. You engage with the rules on a new level, trying to fit them against your understanding of the law and the subject matter.

Finally, considering policy. Most law students dread the policy question on the exam; the “suggested” twenty minutes are reduced to ten minutes of smashing keys and stringing nonsensical sentences together. What is the point of it? we ask. It is the whole point of it. Laws are based in policy. You don’t fully understand the depth and breadth of this until you are weighing your own policy considerations and trying to determine how to work the arithmetic. Sometimes, there are no optimal results: Vague laws are not there to torment law students, but because a vague law left to the interpretation of the courts is sometimes superior to no law at all.

A few things I learned in the process: think about your stakeholders. Not just the obvious ones, but all the ones who may be affected, and think about them in specifics. Replace the vague “creator” with things like: “Jessie, 23 years old writer based in Toronto. She worries about how services like Scribd may damage her prospects in being discovered by readers. She also wonders how she would be able to compete in the global market.” It’s a hypothetical but it makes for richer discourse than vague generalities. Also, there is a difference between balance in statutory interpretation and balance when creating laws. If you have taken Copyright, you have no doubt studied Thèberge and the “balance” that it formally injected into our copyright regime; as in, the balance between the public interest and owner rights. It is an important consideration in policy-making, but it’s not the only consideration. You learn to be cognizant of that too, during your research project.

My research was my main project throughout the term, but the branch ensured I remained involved in other areas as well. We had weekly meetings where we discussed important projects coming up and interesting copyright-related news and developments. I had the opportunity to attend a Copyright Board hearing and a branch retreat that delved into both immediate and long-term issues and considerations. I was engaged in long debates and discussions about different copyright matters, some fueled by calls from the public and some the natural result of a group of people passionate about the same topic.

Overall, the experience has changed how I view my long-term career goals. Not only have I found a new respect for policy, I also plan to develop further expertise in artificial intelligence. I repeat my earlier statement with a small amendment: if you’re interested in copyright or policy at all, there is no better place for you.

 

Tina Mirzaei 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.