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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Respect Copyright Law: Don't Print Your Own Canadian Money


Of all the reasons not to churn out banknotes in your own cellar, worries about liability for copyright infringement never occurred to me. 

Until my wife and I took our two boys up to Winnipeg for the weekend.

Although we could probably have made it through the weekend on credit cards, I was super psyched about getting a wad of Canadian currency out of an ATM machine. 

To experience the full excitement of traveling abroad, you've got to have a pocket full of unfamiliar money. Nevermind that their pennies, dimes, nickels, and quarters look almost identical to U.S. coins. And put aside the fact that the exchange rate right now between the U.S. and Canada is almost exactly one-to-one. I was still excited to use different cash.

Inspecting the colorful bills, I got a delightful surprise: a copyright notice!

Aspiring counterfeiters be warned – the bills are copyrighted by the Bank of Canada! That will make you think twice before xeroxing off a sheaf of north-of-the-border moola. 

In the United States, we discourage that sort of thing with specially crafted counterfeiting laws. Under these laws, you can be arrested by Secret Service agents who, in proving their mettle to make the presidential security detail, will take you down in broad daylight in a swarm of dark suits and sunglasses while never ceasing to speak covertly into their earpieces. 

The Secret Service is all business. To my knowledge, they've never waterboarded anyone, but if they did, you can be sure they would do it without taking off their ties or unbuttoning their collars. 

If you counterfeit money in Canada, you could, apparently, get sued for copyright infringement. Don't think just because Canadians say "sorry" a lot that they will go easy on you. They will be all over you like the RIAA on a mother of two who downloaded a couple dozen songs from the internet.

But honestly speaking, of all the absurd and hyperactive claims of copyright, I think this has got to take the cake. Now, I have no doubt about the law. I am not a student of Canadian copyright law, but I am quite sure the Bank of Canada is entitled to the copyright in their currency designs. But under the Berne Convention, Canada does not need to use a copyright notice to have copyright protection. And to the extent the copyright notice is designed to have evidentiary value in a lawsuit, it's just funny.

And more to the point, why would Canada care to assert a copyright claim over their bills anyway? What possible copying of Canadian banknotes could there be that does not constitute protected fair use or criminally prosecutable counterfeiting? 

The only thing I can think of that might fall between the cracks would be if some lazy foreign government decided to rip off Canadian currency designs to avoid the the annoyance of having to come up with their own. But there are two glaring problems with this argument. 

Sealand 1977 Princess Joan coin Princess Joan, one-third the population of Sealand, on her principality's coinage.

First, the smaller a country is, the more fired-up it gets about designing its own money. 

For instance, the dubiously sovereign Principality of Sealand – perched on an abandoned gun platform in the English channel, population three – has far more coin denominations and stamp issues than people. 

Second, to be blunt, no third-world nation out there wants to put an engraving of pond hockey on their banknotes. 


[Cross-posted on Pixelization.]

Posted by Eric E. Johnson on October 31, 2009 at 05:56 AM in Intellectual Property, Travel | Permalink


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I can think of any number of situations where someone might want to use (part of) a Canadian bank note in a way that is neither counterfeiting nor fair use. Websites about business, a book cover, etc. That still leaves the question of why they found it necessary to print a copyright notice, but still.

Posted by: Martin Holterman | Oct 31, 2009 11:28:40 AM

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