The default e-mail signature used by the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) included the trade-marked phrase ‘Building Trust. Driving Confidence’. The union representing ICBC office employees in a dispute over their collective bargain thought it would be an effective strategy if its members replaced that slogan with a partisan message that included the line ‘We Work. You Drive. We Both Deserve Better’. In the space of 5 days, some 19,000 e-mails went out with the substituted wording. ICBC sought an injunction, claiming that the union had engaged in tortious or illegal conduct in the form of passing off, conversion, interference with contractual relations and civil conspiracy, and had interfered with its trade-mark and copyright.

Willcock J granted the injunction but on one ground alone, that of conversion: ICBC v Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union, Local 378, 2012 BCSC 1244. What the union did was not passing off because it had in no way appropriated the name or goodwill of ICBC. There was no evidence of interference with ICBC’s contractual relations. The conspiracy claim also failed: if altering the footer was tortious, that claim was enough; if it was not, there could be no conspiracy to do it. It was doubtful that there was misuse of ICBC’s intellectual property. The judge was prepared to say, however, that ICBC had a proprietary interest in its e-mail correspondence and it was a triable issue whether the union had wrongfully converted that interest by encouraging its members to handle ICBC’s messages in a way that was inconsistent with its rights in them.

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