On Thought Control and Monetary Policy


(An updated version of this post is available on the Huffington Post).

You would think that in a constitutional democracy such as Canada, people would feel free to comment on current events and criticize politicians and senior officials by referencing common symbols, such as images of bank notes, to drive home their message. You would think so, but apparently, the Bank of Canada does not. It turns out that the Bank of Canada has taken upon itself an extraordinary mission: to control what people think about the Canadian currency.

The Times Colonist reports that B.C. newspaper cartoonist had to pull down a cartoon after receiving a threatening letter from the Bank of Canada. According to the story, Dan Murphy created cartoon looking “like a $50 bill, except it’s for $90,000 and features a picture of Mike Duffy.” He His syndicate then pulled it down as per the demand of the Bank of Canada, after the Bank insisted that permission was required before reproducing a bank-note image, and that “the bank will not approve requests where the reproduction tarnishes or diminishes the importance of currency to Canadians.”

Apparently, the Bank of Canada’s has a Policy on the Reproduction of Bank Note Images. The policy cites s. 457 of the Criminal Act, which I don’t think is relevant to this case at all, as well as the Copyright Act. The policy states that

Although the Bank is the copyright owner of the images used on Canadian bank notes, it recognizes that currency is an important symbol of value in Canada. Accordingly, people may wish to reproduce images for appropriate reasons. The Bank will ordinarily consent to such reproductions if

i. there is no risk that the reproduced image could be mistaken for a genuine note or misused by counterfeiters; and

ii. the proposed use does not tarnish the dignity and importance of currency to Canadians.

If the Bank relies on copyright law to censor Murphy’s cartoon, then its claim has very little merit. Even if a bank-note is a “work” for the purpose of copyright (conventional wisdom is that obviously it would be considered an “artistic work”, but it might not be that obvious), s. 29 of the Copyright Act permits fair dealing with a work for several purposes, which include “parody or satire”. Murphy’s cartoon is clearly a parody or satire, and his work would probably satisfy the factors of fairness quite easily. Therefore, no permission is required, and whether the Bank world grant one or not is irrelevant. Period.

Even if or when permission were required, the Bank of Canada surely has some obligation to respect freedom of expression, a fundamental right guaranteed to all under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Bank’s failure to recognize that is probably more damaging to Canada than any cartoon.

Nevertheless, it seems that an animated audio-visual version of the cartoon is (still?) available on YouTube. Watch it while you can, and then answer the following question:

Who has greater respect to the Canadian currency:

1) Mike Duffy

2) The Bank of Canada

3) Dan Murphy

4) Nigel Wright

And if this reminds you of similar outrageous claims by the Royal Canadian Mint, then, sigh, you’re right.

Updates (May 28, 2013):

1) Dan Murphy’s syndicate, Artizans.com, has decided to restore the cartoon, and requested that the Bank of Canada specify exactly how the cartoon contravenes the Copyright Act, see Malcolm Mayes comment below.

2) Dan Murphy posted to his twitter account a copy of the cartoon and the e-mail from the BoC. Here it is.

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2 Comments on “On Thought Control and Monetary Policy

  1. Dear Ariel:

    The Bank of Canada’s attempted use of copyright law to suppress Dan Murphy’s cartoon is offensive to anyone who believes in freedom of expression.

    Thank you for your informative blog post. It confirmed what we, at Artizans.com, suspected all along. We have re-posted the cartoon to our website and it can be seen here: https://www.artizans.com/image/MUR1177/mike-duffy-is-featured-on-canadas-new-90-thousand-bill-color/

    We have requested that the Bank specify exactly how the cartoon contravenes the copyright act. We look forward to their reply.

    Malcolm Mayes

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