S.C.C. Declares No Production or Reproduction of Artistic Work

Claude Théberge, a commercial Canadian painter, put on the market thousands of authorized posters. Numerous boutique sections in art galleries sold these posters framed, laminated or transferred on canvas.

The issue was to determine the extent to which an artist utilizing the statutory rights and remedies provided by the Copyright Act can control the eventual use or display of an authorized reproduction of his or her work in the hands of a third-party purchaser. The artist arranged, even though there was no multiplication of authored work, to have a bailiff seize before judgment canvas-backed reproductions without ever satisfying a judge that the art galleries involved had violated the Act. The Supreme Court of Canada concluded that the seizure before judgment was not authorized by the Act and thus, art. 734 of the Quebec Code of Civil Procedure, which provides for seizure before judgment, was not an available remedy.

The technique that was contested by the artist and which he felt constituted an unauthorized copying of his work was the transfer on canvas. The various art galleries transferred authorized reproduction of Claude Théberge’s artistic work from poster to canvas. They purchased lawfully reproduced posters of Claude Théberge’s paintings and used a chemical process that allowed the lifting of the ink layer from the paper (leaving it blank) and displayed it on canvas.

On March 28, 2002, the court concluded that because there was no multiplication of copies (the posters did not exist anymore once it was transferred on canvas), it did not constitute a copy of the authorized poster. Art galleries were within their rights to do so as owners of the physical posters. There was no production or reproduction of a new artistic work “in any material form” within the meaning of s. 3(1) of the Copyright Act. A simple change of support of an authorized work cannot constitute a reproduction allowing the artist to seize before judgment alleging counterfeited work.

The plaintiff was represented by Louis Linteau of Laurin Lamarre Linteau & Montcalm. The defendants: Galerie d’Art Yves Laroche Inc. was represented by Marzia Frascadore of Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP; and Galerie d’Art du Petit Champlain Inc. and Serge Rosa were represented by Vincent Chiara of Chiara & Ass.