Keatley Surveying v Teranet, 2016 ONSC 1717

A class action brought by land surveyors against Teranet, the private sector company that manages Ontario's electronic land registry system, has been dismissed. This class action was brought on behalf of 350 land surveyors who alleged breach of copyright and unlawful appropriation of the class members' work.

Documents prepared by land surveyors are registered in the land registry system. On-line copies of registered plans of survey are provided by Teranet to members of the public for a fee prescribed by statute, but Teranet does not pay any fees or royalties to the land surveyors.

The surveyors understood and accepted that the province had the right to copy and sell the plans of survey once they were registered or deposited at the land registry under the old paper-based system. The twist in this class action was the allegation that there is now a for-profit third-party that has inserted itself between the government and users of land registration services. It was alleged that Teranet reaps substantial profits at the expense of class members.

The class members argued that the transfer of ownership in the survey documents does not necessarily affect the ownership of the copyright in the document. However, the Court found that the relevant legislative provisions made clear that when plans of survey are registered or deposited at the land registry office, the province takes full ownership of the property in these works which includes the right to make copies.

This finding that the registration or deposit of the plans of survey in the land registry office transfers copyright to the province was determinative. There could not be any copyright infringement by Teranet who was publishing the surveys "by or under the direction or control of Her Majesty".