Copyright, Creativity, and Human Rights: Rethinking the Value(s) of Copyright

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Thursday, May 31, 2018, 1:00-1:45 Room 1900

Graham Reynolds – University of British Columbia


Copyright is often described as a set of economic rights the overarching goal of which is to incentivize persons both natural and corporate to invest in the creation and distribution of copyrighted expression. This characterization of copyright, as an economic asset and a critical component of today’s knowledge economy, has had a significant impact on the structure of both domestic copyright legislation and international copyright treaties, as well as on the ways in which courts have interpreted provisions of copyright legislation.

However, this conception of copyright fails to give proper consideration to the many linkages between copyright and human rights: the ways in which copyright advances various rights guaranteed under international human rights treaties, and the ways in which copyright limits the extent to which individuals can exercise their rights under these same treaties. These linkages require legislators and courts to give greater consideration to human rights in the context of copyright.

A number of consequences flow from accepting the connection between copyright and human rights. Using Canada as my case study, I will discuss in particular how accepting the link between copyright and human rights should impact the ways in which courts interpret provisions of Canada’s Copyright Act. I will also discuss how accepting the link between copyright and human rights should impact the ways in which courts interpret both the scope of rights guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (including the right to freedom of expression) and the relationship between Canada’s Copyright Act and the Charter.

While several objections can be raised to the claim that legislators and courts must accept the connections between copyright and human rights, I argue that doing so will ultimately strengthen the copyright system, resulting in more inclusive, more equal, and more effective laws and policies relating to copyright and creativity.



Dr. Graham J. Reynolds is an Assistant Professor at the Allard School of Law, University of British Columbia. He teaches and researches in the areas of copyright law, intellectual property law, property law, intellectual property and human rights, and technology and access to justice. A recipient of the Allard School of Law’s annual teaching award, the George Curtis Memorial Award for Teaching Excellence, Graham has completed graduate studies at the University of Oxford, where he studied on a Rhodes Scholarship, a Pierre Elliott Trudeau Scholarship, and a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Doctoral Award. Among other research affiliations, Graham is currently a Research Fellow of the Oxford Intellectual Property Research Centre at the University of Oxford. He previously served as the judicial law clerk to the Honourable Chief Justice Finch of the British Columbia Court of Appeal.


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