IP Intensive: What’s that Bear? You’re comfortable with these risks? - A Semester at TVO

Like most 30 somethings who grew up in Ontario, my parents plopped me down in front of TVO to watch Today’s Special and the Polka-Dot-Door. However, unlike most 30 somethings, I spent my mid-twenties advocating for independent documentary programming with the Documentary Organization of Canada (DOC). Consequently, I had a different relationship with TVO. As one of Canada’s few documentary commissioners, TVO triumphed the power of Canadian documentary films, but DOC and TVO had diverging interests. When the Osgoode’s Intellectual Property Law & Technology Program Intensive (IP Intensive) provided an opportunity to sit on the other side of the table while learning the inner workings of an inhouse legal department, I immediately chose to intern at TVO.

Fortunately, my knowledge of the Canadian television production financing and funding models let me adapt to some tasks very quickly: specifically, those related to co-production of television programs. TVO co-produces its children’s and documentary programming with Canadian independent producers. In our meetings with commissioning editors, I understood the business challenges and the risks inherent in the co-production cycle. Because I knew the nature and purpose of the deal terms, I could collaborate with the business affairs team more effectively as we reviewed and revised co-production agreements.

However, my expertise only led me so far. As various business units reached out to the legal team for advice, I began the difficult transition from legal expert to risk manager. Inhouse lawyers act as risk barometers for a business. Their capacity to advise on risks develops through helping the business units achieve their goals. While ten weeks is not enough time to develop a mastery of TVO’s risk profile, I became more accustomed to how each business unit assesses risk. Most importantly, I learned a life-lesson for all lawyers: despite your best efforts to communicate risks, it is ultimately the client’s call whether to proceed.

Through this process, I also refined how to communicate risks more effectively. At first, I overcompensated and overcommunicated by enumerating every possible risk in the finest detail with references and alternatives. With guidance from the legal team, I massaged my lengthy analysis into shorter point form summaries with concise risk assessments. Eventually, in contexts where I had the requisite depth of knowledge, I outlined how the business unit could mitigate these risks, which they greatly appreciated.

As a user, producer and licensor of copyrighted materials, I assisted the legal team with a diverse set of intellectual property matters. Again, this meant translating my legal expertise into meaningful advice to the business units. While preparing for a Fair Dealing presentation to the journalists and producers of TVO’s current affairs programming units, I consulted with them to ensure that I could communicate our fair dealing policy to resonate with their lived experience. In addition to drafting licensing agreements and quasi-intellectual property agreements, such as releases, I helped TVO defend the reputation of its trade-mark mascot, the Polkaroo, as Mark Scott appeared in public an pot-smoking variant: the Tokaroo.

I hoped that the IP intensive would provide real world exposure to how seasoned professionals navigate the intersection of law and business. I was not disappointed. At TVO, I witnessed how its legal team advises provides strategic guidance to avoid legal action. Participating in these discussions shifted my mindset away from legal action as the solution to merely an option. Indeed, this perspective imbued TVO’s approach to contracting. When revising or drafting new templates, we aimed to reduce contract friction: those provisions and rights that would unnecessarily prolong the negotiation process. This way contracts operate as a managerial device and planning document in addition to a legal mechanism to protect TVO’s rights. This internship has forever reoriented my conception of contracting

When I chose to pivot my career to law, I chose Osgoode Hall Law School because of its experiential programs, specifically, the IP Intensive Program. I can truly say that this internship is the culmination of my time at Osgoode. I synthesized my legal education and previous experience in a practical context with the feedback and guidance to help align my perspective with those of my future clients. I am forever grateful to TVO for welcoming me onto their team and allowing me to help Ontarians never stop learning.

 

Written by Cameron McMaster.  Cameron 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.