KEATLEY SURVEYING LTD. v. TERANET INC., 2019 SCC 43

Anything published under the direction or control of government which comes within the scope of Section 12 of the Copyright Act has the copyright of government.

Case is regarding the copyright issue of the government where Section 12 of the Copyright Act has been interpreted. The Appellant, Keatley Surveying Ltd., is a land survey company who brought an action on behalf of all the land surveyors in Ontario against the Respondent which was hired for the modernisation of Land Registry system of Ontario.

The land registration system of Ontario was purely paper based. In 1980, the city of Ontario decided to modernise the Ontario Land Registry Information System with the help of a company called Teranet Inc. The system was developed and the plans were made which were published by Ontario and by Teranet on the directions of Ontario. Copies of the land registry plans were made available online by Teranet on behalf of Ontario. The land survey company launched a class action in 2007 regarding the copyright claim. Their main contention was that the surveyors have the copyright of the content which has been developed by them but Teranet Inc. was infringing this right. On the other hand, Teranet argued that Crown has the copyright of everything which was published by it. In 2016, the parties moved for summary judgment raising 7 common issues. With this case, the court has exclusively interpreted Section 12 of the Copyright Act for the first time.

The court observed that Section 165(1) of the Land Titles Act, Section 18(1) and Section 50(3) of the Registry Act distinctly specify that all plans submitted for registration or created or maintained for the purposes of the land registry system are the property of Crown. The court interprets that the plans of survey were not prepared by the Crown so the question which is to be considered is that whether these were published “by or under the direction” of the Crown. For this Section 2.2(1) of the Copyright Act which defines “publication” comes into picture. The fact that copies of the plans are available only after the payment of a prescribed fee. This act as a statutory obligation on the Crown to provide the copies of the plans highlight that Crown has control over it and not the creators, thereby fulfilling the “published” prong of Section 12. Furthermore, with regard to the interpretation of the words “any work”, the court concluded that it represents a wide scope and can include any type of government work. Emphasis was also paid on legislative history. Marginal note in Section 18 of the Copyright Act, 1911 refers to the “Provisions as to Government publications” which also symbolize the nature of work. After construing all the words such as “published”, “any work”, “direction or control”, etc, it can be established from Section 12 of the Copyright Act that that there is no violation of copyright claim by Crown and the copyright belongs to the Crown and not to the original creators. Therefore, the appeal of the Keatley Surveying Ltd. was dismissed.