VANCOUVER – National animal law organization Animal Justice is asking the B.C. Court of Appeal for permission to intervene in an important appeal that could affect the ability of animal advocates to do undercover investigations into animal cruelty, and to otherwise film, photograph, and expose animal abuse.
The case is an appeal of a decision of the B.C. Supreme Court in a lawsuit filed by the Vancouver Aquarium against filmmaker Gary Charbonneau. Mr. Charbonneau’s film Vancouver Aquarium Uncovered criticized the Aquarium for its practice of keeping and breeding whales and dolphins in captivity. In response, the Aquarium sued Mr. Charbonneau for violation of copyright, and sought an injunction to have the film removed from the internet.
The Aquarium was partially successful in April when the judge hearing the injunction ordered that 15 segments with nearly five minutes worth of material be removed from the film. The Aquarium claimed copyright over these segments, which included material from its website and footage shot at its facility–despite well-established limits on copyright law that allow users to reproduce copyrighted material for many purposes, including criticism and news reporting.
Legal experts have called the Aquarium’s lawsuit an abuse of copyright law that improperly attempts to silence legitimate criticism and shut down robust public debate. In May, the B.C. Court of Appeal granted Mr. Charbonneau leave to appeal the injunction decision.
“Films and undercover investigation videos are powerful tools to expose hidden animal suffering and spark social and legal change,” said lawyer Camille Labchuk, executive director of Animal Justice. “If the injunction decision is not overturned, animal use industries will be emboldened to launch bogus copyright lawsuits to silence animal advocates and prevent them from exposing and publicizing animal abuse through undercover investigations, films, and photographs.
“This case could be Canada’s own version of “ag gag” laws–the troubling statutes passed by many U.S. states that criminalize filming animal abuse on farms.
“Animal Justice is hopeful that the court will accept our application to intervene in this crucial case so we can protect the ability to film, photograph, and expose animal suffering.”
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