Oh, look. It's our good friend "copyright" being used to perform a some light censorship
. Certain entities seem to love this aspect of copyright -- the fact that it can be used to sweep something embarrassing under the rug.
The entity involved in activating copyright's wonder twin powers (form of a broom!) is Canada's Encana Corporation. And what needs to be swept away? A muttered expletive directed at an analyst who had the audacity to ask a tough question during a conference call
Encana Corp, Canada's largest natural gas producer, apologized on Thursday because one of its executives cursed after an analyst asked about whether new Canadian investment rules would prohibit its takeover by foreign state-owned entities.
When asked the question by Canaccord Genuity analyst Phil Skolnick, interim CEO Clayton Woitas said: "The answer would be no." Then, in a whispered comment that was clearly audible on a replay of the call, someone can be heard saying, "fucking asshole."
Nice. Apparently, the swearing executive somehow forgot that being in a room full of microphones means even the under-the-breath swearing will be broadcast. Encana, of course, swiftly apologized for the low flying insult. But, instead of leaving it there (which would be perfectly acceptable -- people being fallible and all that), it has decided it needs to erase the recording from the internet, in hopes that reality will fall in line with the official
transcript of the conference call.
Unfortunately for Encana, the recording has already been uploaded to Chirbit
, an audio sharing site, and so far the play button has been pushed over 55,000 times. Encana is now leaning on Chirbit to take the clip down
On Thursday, Chirbit founder Ivan Reyes said he has received a takedown request from Encana. Mr. Reyes has declined, citing fair use provisions in copyright law and a site policy directing that such requests be sent to the poster of audio.
Encana, in its request, says:
“Encana is the copyright owner of the Recording. It was expressly stated at the outset of the Conference Call that 'this conference call may not be recorded or rebroadcast without the express consent of Encana Corporation',” the letter states.
“The Recording has been posted without Encana’s consent. The unauthorized use of this Recording clearly constitutes copyright infringement. ... Encana views this matter extremely seriously and requests that you respond to the undersigned on or before the close of business on Friday, February 22, 2013, failing which, Encana will have no other recourse but to take all actions as may be available to it to protect its proprietary rights.”
Encana is trying to erase two words from the internet, something its spokesman finds reasonable and, more sadly, possible.
“I think any individual or organization that has something embarrassing broadcast over the web without proper permissions would make any attempt to have that content eventually removed as, understandably, we do not wish to have that clip living on in perpetuity on the web,” he said.
The clip was uploaded by a Globe and Mail reporter who had recorded the conference call, common practice among journalists to ensure accuracy in their reporting. Copyright over the entire call, much less those two words, is a pretty grey area. Over at the Canadian Intellectual Property Blog, Jahangir Valiani breaks down this scenario
To be clear, assuming there is no agreement to the contrary, the only aspect of the conversation posted that Encana may be able to claim copyright over is the three words said by its employees. Copyright to the question posed by the third party would belong to that third party unless the person who posed the question assigned it in writing to Encana.
For copyright to exist in a statement, the statement being copyrighted must be an “original… work”. The test for originality in Canada requires the author to exercise skill and judgement, where the skill and judgement exercised must not be so trivial as to be characterized as purely mechanical. While the qualitative test for a statement to be a “work” is low, there is a quantitative minimum that must be met for copyright protection.
The statements made by the Encana executives in this scenario do not qualify for copyright protection as they fail to meet both the criteria for a copyrightable work. The obscenity was not an exercise of skill and judgement. It was an impulsive response to a question that the speaker found insulting. In fact, if the speaker had exercised skill and judgement, it is likely that the he wouldn't have said the obscenity at all.
Valiani says that, in this case, copyright protection for the exec's "unguarded moment" isn't impossible
, it's just highly unlikely. If Encana has any recourse, it would be to pursue legal action for breach of contract, as Encana specifically prohibited third-party recording. As noted above, Chirbit is leaving the clip up, citing fair use.
This likely won't satisfy Encana, which clearly wishes the clip to be vanished into the copyright cornfield. The reality of the situation is that even if
it gets the clip taken down, the recording will very definitely resurface. Encana's best move is to simply let it go. People swear and do inappropriate things at inappropriate times. Continued pursuit of the offending clip will only "Streisand" it, causing it spread across the internet like a sweary wildfire. Even if
Encana is within its rights, it gains nothing by attempting to whitewash something that is already public knowledge.