The Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench recently had to deal with a bizarre case in which the defendant obtained a Mastercard from Bank of Montreal, used it for 15 years, made payments on it for 15 years and then stopped paying it: Bank of Montreal v. Rogozinsky, 2014 ABQB 771. The defendant was sued by BMO for the outstanding balance of $27,064 plus interest. In defence, the defendant argued, amongst other things, that BMO was estopped from advancing their claim and counterclaimed against BMO for $6 million for trademark and copyright infringement.
Essentially, the defendant was a “freeman-on-the-land” – she claimed she was not a resident of Alberta (but was domiciled by birth), did not accept “joinder” between herself and her name, and (inexplicably) that slavery was illegal. She also took exception to being called a “Freeman” and claimed such a title was discriminatory.
How does this relate to copyright? Right before her credit card was suspended by BMO, the plaintiff sent to BMO a “Common Law Copyright Notice”. It was a “foisted unilateral agreement” which claimed that if someone used the defendant’s name without her permission she could bill them $1 million. BMO used the defendant’s name in its statement of claim and various court submissions, and thus, had allegedly breached the defendant’s copyright.
The defendant was claiming copyright and trademark in her name, as well as “her biological and physical properties” and “absolute control and mastery over the peaceful possession of [her] body, mind and mental facilities”. BMO was allegedly interfering with the defendant’s peace of mind by suing her for repayment of her debt.
Astonishingly (at least to me), this defendant was not the first person to come before the Canadian courts and make this argument. The Court dismissed the copyright and trademark claims of the defendant, and referred to Meads v. Meads, 2012 ABQB 571 (an entertaining and enlightening read on the various characteristics and permutations of freemen-on-the-land).
The issue in Meads was unpaid spousal and child support. The defendant father and ex-husband attempted to defend against paying spousal and child support on the basis of a myriad of arguments, including that he was not Dennis Meads (his name) because it was a “corporate identity”. The defendant also claimed copyright/trademark in his own name and argued that there had been breaches of both.
The Court in Meads noted that the special property interests provided by copyright and trademark flow from legislation (the Copyright Act and Trademarks Act). The Court further noted there is no authority to establish that a personal name can form a creative work that would be subject to copyright (and if there was, such copyright would vest in the authors, presumably the defendant’s parents). Similarly, no trademark in the defendant’s name had been registered.
If one day you decide to become a freeman-on-the-land, now you know that you can’t claim copyright or trademark in your own name. Unless perhaps you’ve registered it…in which case, keep an eye out for Apple Inc. v. Apple Martin (Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s famously named daughter).