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Opinion: Mayor Kennedy Stewart caught stealing intellectual property

Hey, dude, that photo belongs to us

While most elections end with cries of them being "stolen" by at least one disgruntled candidate after the ballots have been counted, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart got the jump on everyone by stealing something months before the door knocking has even begun.

The mayor has stolen our intellectual property.

Over the past couple of weeks posters showing mayoral hopefuls Ken Sim and John Coupar (who are running for A Better Vancouver and The NPA, respectively) shaking hands have popped up all over the city. The posters say voters can stop these two from "killing the empty homes tax," along with a QR code that leads to the mayor's re-election campaign website.

The photo on the posters belongs to Vancouver Is Awesome and has appeared in multiple articles of ours after our company paid a photographer to go and shoot it. It's being used illegally, and the first I learned of its improper usage was when someone posted a photo of one of the posters online.

I then learned that thousands of the attack ads are plastered up and down Main Street, along Broadway to Kitsilano. When they get tattered or covered with other posters, the mayor's team replaces them. If you've been walking the streets lately, you've definitely seen them.

So what's the big deal?

As a publisher and politics columnist, I understand attack ads and, in fact, I have no issue with the mayor taking shots at his competitors in this fashion. They're going to do the same and worse to him leading up to the election this coming October. It is what it is.

What I take serious issue with is the fact that the mayor stole our photo and used it without our consent, without providing compensation or credit.

Had his team reached out to us to ask if we would license the image to them they would have learned that we don't condone the weaponizing of our photos for political gain and we would never accept their money if they were going to use it for that purpose.

But they didn't contact us. They simply downloaded our photo from our website, removed the credit and background, and splashed it on their attack ads.

So I picked up the phone and called the mayor's campaign manager, Mark Hosak, hoping to ask him why he didn't approach us before using the photo. He didn't take my call.

His response to the email I sent shortly thereafter was curt, and I don't doubt it went through their legal counsel. He replied, "It is our understanding that our usage of this photo is covered by fair dealing under criticism, review, and news reporting provisions. You expect that this election, like all elections, we will see more and more of this kind of usage by all electoral parties in line with copyright law."

There is some merit to their "fair dealing" response, in that a precedent was set in the 2021 ruling in CBC v. Conservative Party of Canada.

In that case, the CBC essentially wanted to prevent the federal Conservatives from using excerpts from their interviews in attack ads for TV and radio. The ruling was that the party could use them, on the condition that they offer proper credit to where the clips came from.

Stewart's team is most certainly familiar with this case, and I would bet they have a PDF of the ruling on file. They were likely betting on the fact that even if we did take it to our lawyers we wouldn't have much of a case, and that the most we'd get out of it would be a reprint of the posters, with a photo credit.

What to do about it?

Instead of attempting to make a meal out of this with our lawyers, I'm taking the fact that the mayor stole our intellectual property to the front page of our newspaper, and of course our website.

112,000 copies of our paper are printed every week, and I hope two things happen as a result:

1. Our readers who recognize the photo that they're seeing in attack ads know that we didn't approve of its usage, and we never would, regardless of who was in the photograph. Even if we owned the rights to a photo of Mayor Kennedy Stewart dry humping an orca (we don't, sadly), we would never approve of it being weaponized by his political opposition.

2. Political parties and candidates learn that maybe they shouldn't do this sort of thing, that some copyright owners are absolutely not having it, and some of us are churlish enough to put people who do this sort of thing on blast.

The municipal election is scheduled for October 15, 2022, and you can expect coverage of where all of the candidates stand on the issues here on our website and in our newspaper. I hope to not have to take time out of my day to write many more columns like this one.

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