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Review of Copyright Law by David Vaver (Toronto: Irwin Law, 2000)

Author: Paula Baron BA, LLB, LLM (Tas)
Senior Lecturer, University of Western Australia School of Law
Issue: Volume 7, Number 2 (June 2000)

  1. David Vaver's new book, Copyright Law, aims to provide a comprehensive overview of Canadian copyright law. It also aims, however, to be accessible to the widest possible readership: The text is aimed not only at lawyers and law students, but at the creative community and the general public. Authoring a book that seeks to be both comprehensive and accessible to such a wide audience is no mean feat in an area of law notorious for its complexity, technicality and even obscurity.

  2. Vaver has certainly succeeded in his aim of accessibility. His exposition of copyright law is clear and articulate and difficult concepts are explained in a simple and straightforward manner. The tone of the text is almost conversational.

  3. In his aim of providing a comprehensive overview, he also succeeds, although, as one might expect in a text of this nature, breadth is far more evident than depth. Vaver uses a fairly standard structure for a text of this type: The chapters (other than the first and last) cover, in turn, what it is that copyright protects, the criteria for copyrightability, title and duration of copyright, owners' rights, authors' moral rights, users' rights, management and enforcement. All these chapters are dealt with in a relatively 'black-letter' manner, although as I have already noted, in a way that could readily be understood by the non-legally trained reader.

  4. The first and last chapters touch on the more fundamental and difficult questions relating to intellectual property law in general, and copyright law in particular: whether intellectual property rights are justified (and if so, on what basis); the increasingly important role of intellectual property as wealth; the 'unclear, inconsistent and archaic' nature of intellectual property laws; problems posed to copyright protection by digital technologies, the lack of public participation and control over intellectual property laws; the lack of protection for the artwork and stories of indigenous peoples under existing copyright; and the need for a fundamental re-evaluation of intellectual property laws in general.

  5. These are valuable chapters, although, in keeping with the rest of the text, breadth is achieved at the expense of depth. They raise, but do not attempt to answer, vital questions that bedevil the law in an age of digital technologies and TRIPs (Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, 1994). I suspect, however, that most readers of this text will tend to overlook these chapters. Clearly, the exposition of the law is the focus of this book and most potential readers will be more intent upon 'finding the answers' than 'asking the questions'.

  6. For the Australian reader, a text on Canadian copyright law is of limited value, of course, other than in a comparative sense. Nevertheless, Australian readers will recognise many of the concepts of copyright law and many of the inconsistencies and ambiguities inherent in the Canadian legislation as being common to our own Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The Australian law student who is wrestling with core concepts of copyright protection common to both the Australian and Canadian jurisdictions, such as originality, for instance, will find Vaver's explanations very helpful.

  7. For the Australian practitioner who has a question relating to Canadian copyright law, the book provides a practical and clear explanation of the operation of the legislation, and would be an appropriate starting point for further research.

  8. The difficulty for the student or practitioner, however, is that texts on intellectual property rapidly become outdated as this area is reformed and amended with an almost startling frequency. In Australia, the Copyright Act has been amended significantly over the last two years and there are more changes to come, as we await the enactment of the Digital Agenda Bill, the long awaited incorporation of moral rights into the Act and simplification.

  9. The characteristic of continuous change, then, acts both as the rationale and as the limitation of a book such as Copyright Law. The book was written to accommodate change: the author notes that, even as he published his earlier book, Intellectual Property Law, in 1997, it was almost immediately apparent that a book devoted exclusively to copyright alone was needed. One important reason for this was that the Canadian copyright legislation was undergoing reform to accommodate the demands of TRIPs. Just as Copyright Law was necessitated by change, in turn, if the Canadian experience is anything like the current Australian experience of copyright reform, it is likely that David Vaver will be writing a new edition of Copyright Law in the not too distant future.

  10. Rapid technological change and the pressures such change places on copyright law are immense. They impose a sense of impermanence, and it is this impermanence that challenges both the law and those who write about the law. Copyright Law captures a moment in Canadian copyright regulation. David Vaver has captured that moment well, and in a way that will be of considerable practical utility to students, practitioners and users of Canadian copyright law.

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