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Globe and Mail loses copyright case

Ontario appeal court rules Globe and Mail violated copyright law by republishing articles by freelancer in its electronic databases

The Ontario Court of Appeal has ruled that the Globe and Mail violated copyright law when it republished articles by a freelancer in its electronic databases.

In a 2-1 decision, the court ruled that the newspaper infringed the copyright of Heather Robertson, a freelancer whose print work also appeared in three databases, including Info Globe Online.

"Since I conclude that a database is not a newspaper and that what the Globe reproduced did not have the qualitative aspects of a substantial parts of its newspaper, the Globe's cross-appeal on this issue must fail," said Madam Justice Karen Weiler, writing on behalf of the majority.

Weiler said that the freelance agreement the paper had with Robertson did not allow it to claim ownership of copyright for versions of stories apart from those in the print edition.

The ruling upholds a decision by the Ontario Superior Court in 2001.

The decision may have implications for how the self-styled national newspaper uses freelance material in the future. It applies only to freelancers and not staff writers at the paper.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Robert Blair argued that electronic archives are like traditional libraries: "No one suggests ... that a library must be a newspaper before the copyright of a newspaper publisher in the newspapers found in the library is protected."

According to Globe publisher Phillip Crawley, the Globe's lawyers are studying the ruling. No decision has been made about pursuing the case in the Supreme Court of Canada.

The articles in question were originally published in 1995.