IP Intensive: 10 Weeks at SOCAN - Getting Immersed in the World of Copyright Collectives

IP Intensive: 10 Weeks at SOCAN - Getting Immersed in the World of Copyright Collectives

This past fall, as part of Osgoode's Intellectual Property Law & Technology Intensive Program, I spent ten weeks at the Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers of Canada (SOCAN). This was my first choice of a placement organization, because I was seeking not just experience in copyright law, but also experience in civil litigation. From my Copyright class I'd learned that every other copyright case that made it all the way to the Supreme Court involved SOCAN, so I knew that this was the place to be for any aspiring IP litigator. And SOCAN certainly did not disappoint. I gained so much hands-on knowledge of the federal court process and the civil litigation process that I feel like a seasoned lawyer now!

SOCAN is the largest copyright collective organization in Canada, representing composers, lyricists and music publishers. As most collectives do, it collects royalties and enforces copyright on behalf of its members. In other words, SOCAN issues licences to play music to businesses like bars, restaurants, gyms or radio stations, and then distributes royalties collected under these licences to copyright owners who are members of SOCAN. When businesses do not want to pay, which happens fairly often, SOCAN initiates an action. It should be noted however, that every defendant are provided with multiple chances to get on SOCAN's good side, because, after all, it is in SOCAN's interest to enter into ongoing business relationships with its licensees rather than to put them out of business.

Thanks to the patient guidance of my placement supervisor, who was always willing to answer my never ending questions, these ten weeks allowed me to gain a very good understanding of SOCAN's licensing and litigation process. I've reviewed and analyzed dozens of files that were being brought into litigation after failed licensing attempts, and learned what kind of evidence is required for copyright infringement or collection litigation, and how that evidence is collected. I've learned the process of proving ownership of music works and how SOCAN enforces the rights of members of other collectives abroad with whom it has reciprocal agreements. I've drafted numerous demand letters, statements of claims and settlement offers. I got to draft several motions for default judgments and a few affidavits. In other words, I got to work on the entire litigation process – the experience that I'm sure will prove handy once I start practicing as a lawyer.

In addition to getting immersed in litigation, I had a chance to get a glimpse of what in-house counsel do. Helping draft several licensing agreements and sitting on negotiations with some major online services entering Canada gave me a pretty good idea about what it takes for an online music or audiovisual service to enter Canada and to obtain necessary licenses and permissions from various rights holders. This process is definitely not for the faint of heart, considering that streaming one song online involves a number of rights, such as a public communication right and a reproduction right for the music composition, reproduction right for the performer's performance, a reproduction right for the recording itself and there's also a making available right. Each of these rights is administered by a different collective, while some rights must be licensed by music labels directly. No wonder Pandora is still not available in Canada!

Of course, I also got to work on some research memos and learned about things like grand rights and charitable exemptions in copyright, as well as about some things that have nothing to do with copyright, like the law on abandoned property across Canada. I also wrote some pieces on international developments in collective copyright administration.

Aside from getting interesting and meaningful assignments, working at SOCAN was a pleasure. This is a very fun organization, where musical performances, employee competitions and various events are an almost weekly occurrence. A lot of staff working at SOCAN are also musicians, so there were several performances by SOCAN band, which were really good.

These ten weeks were a lot of fun and a lot of hands-on learning. For anyone interested in copyright, and especially in the complicated and confusing world of copyright collectives, it is hard to find a better place to learn all about it than SOCAN.


Alexandra Grishanova is a JD Candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School and was enrolled in Osgoode’s Intellectual Property Law and Technology Intensive Program. As part of the program requirements, students were asked to write a reflective blog on their internship experience.