Cynthia Zhang is a 3L JD Candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School. This article was written as a requirement for Prof. Pina D’Agostino’s IP Intensive Program.
As a student of Osgoode’s Intellectual Property Law and Technology Intensive for the Fall 2022 semester, I had the opportunity to complete an internship placement at Ontario’s public educational broadcaster, TVO. Most people who, like me, grew up in Ontario in the 90s-2000s likely consider after school snacks and Polka Dot Door a core memory. Besides its classic properties like Polkaroo and Today’s Special, TVO also produces The Agenda, a current affairs daily, and offers accredited educational services and products. I was a member of the Legal Services and Business Affairs team under the supervision of Patricia Cavalhier, Director of Legal Services at TVO.
I was pleased to be able to attend onsite two days each week. Besides TVO offices, the building at 2180 Yonge also houses TVO’s studios, editing and content production facilities. I tagged along on a site tour with a group of new hires and was able to see some archival sets and props, the costume department, editing studios, as well as the sets of The Agenda and other TVO in-house productions. The industry-specific ecosystem is one notable difference between a role as in-house counsel versus a practitioner in a law firm.
By far the most engaging project I worked on during my placement was the publication of a set of official marks for TVO. I was fortunate to have begun my internship at the same time as the rollout of an organizational rebrand. This resulted in new logo designs and new programming branding, all of which needed to be protected via a trademark-related process. Official marks are a system unique to Canada and operate pursuant to section 9(1)(n)(iii) of the Trademarks Act, RSC 1985, c T-13. They are “published” by the Registrar of Trademarks as opposed to being “registered” like trademarks. They can only be owned by a public authority, an organization under substantial government control that provides a public benefit, such as TVO. The actual process of publishing official marks is very different to obtaining registration of a trademark. I was surprised to find that the feat could be accomplished simply by sending a one-page request form to the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO). This would then need to be followed up with proof of public authority and proof of use or public display of the mark itself.
Additionally, I discovered that it was quite easy to speak with a trademark examiner at CIPO to receive advice on section 9 procedure. I was able to interact with the examiner via both email and phone, and he was very accessible and willing to help on multiple occasions. Having worked in an accounting setting which involved constant interaction with CRA, this level of approachability from a government entity came as a shock to me.
Prior to law school, I worked in an entertainment context in various capacities but without experience in broadcast media. My placement at TVO taught me how such an organization functions internally. I spent time with acquisitions officers and understood their day-to-day processes, including how licensing agreements are generated and negotiated, something which I had only experienced from the opposite party’s perspective during my summer law student roles. I was also interested to learn of some unique considerations for this type of broadcaster, including stringent compliance with Canadian Media Fund requirements regarding fund allocation, programming characteristics, and diversity and inclusion.
Toward the end of my placement, I found it gratifying to be able to design a “best practices” guideline for TVO’s content team regarding IP considerations and social media. I learned that although content production staff generally understands the wide strokes of copyright and trademark, they can still easily get caught up on nuances which could result in a claim of infringement or similar. I was able to compose a guideline that provided points to be mindful of and specific advice on use of Creative Commons licensed content, including careful attribution. I left feeling as if I had contributed concretely to the operation of the organization, at least in this small way.
My internship at TVO gave me beneficial insight into the daily life of in-house counsel as well as how a broadcast media organization operates in the changing media landscape today. It is clear that TVO is embracing and exploring different avenues for the future of their business, as is evident from their recent partnerships with popular brands like Retrokid and the NBA. I am grateful to Professor Pina D’Agostino and my supervisor for making this experience happen.