There seemed to be a collective sigh of relief in Montreal today.
It was not that we had all finished our Christmas shopping nor where the streets cleared of snow. The artistic community in Montreal, Quebec and Canada were relieved for Claude Robinson.
This affair has been long running. It started with an artist ‘borrowing’ some ideas from a work first published in 1719.
Yes that is when Daniel Defoe first published, Robinson Crusoe, under the slightly longer title: The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver'd by Pyrates.
Those are not typos in the title. Keep in mind that Oxford dictionaries where not yet thought of and people spelled phonetically.
Leap forward 266 years and Claude Robinson, perhaps sufficiently teased about his name, that he developed a character called “The Adventures of Robinson Curiosity”.
He shopped the concept around, including to a young Montreal company called Cinar Films. Claude Robinson’s efforts appeared to be unsuccessful.
Jump forward another ten years and a growing and successful Montreal Company, Cinar, introduced a new animated show called Robinson Sucroe. The show grew in popularity. Claude Robinson felt cheated and he sued for copyright infringement when he was basically ignored by Cinar’s management who viewed him as a crank.
Mr. Robinson who has some public relations (PR) experience, took on the challenge as a ‘David versus Goliath’ battle. His PR skills were successful, but the legal challenge became a long and bumpy road.
Cinar was distracted with public offerings; acquisitions; tax credit debacles and management accused of a slew of improper actions. The independent directors on the board brought in their own legal counsel with a mandate of untangling the mess. Each decision seemed to bring a lawsuit and counter lawsuit.
Claude Robinson doggedly plodded along. He won a ‘stunning’ victory in 2009 for more than $5.2 million bestowed by Superior Court Judge Claude Auclair.
This ruling was upheld but the amounts were reduced in 2011 by the Quebec Court of Appeal. Neither party was satisfied with this ruling.
Two years and with estimates of legal bills in excess of 2 millions being spent, a definitive ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) was issued today, Cinar et al are liable. Robinson et al win.
The score? While the SCC did not restore all of the initial judgment, they did lean that way. They also ruled that there was copyright infringement. For instance, the initial Superior Court ruling included $1 million in punitive damages. The Quebec Court of Appeal reduced that to $250,000. The Supreme Court revised it to $500,000
The SCC concluded the appeal court erred in reducing from $400,000 to $121,350 the amount awarded to Robinson for psychological harm and reinstated the original sum.
Who pays? The Supreme Court said Cinar, Weinberg, Charest and Izard — respectively responsible for 40, 20, 20 and 20 per cent of the punitive damages — “consistently and contemptuously” denied having access to Robinson’s work, disparaged his claims they’d copied it, insinuated he was an “attention-seeking eccentric;” depriving him “not only of a source of revenue but also of his sense of proprietorship over a project that had deep personal significance for him”
Robinson and his lawyers have not yet commented on the ruling but we do expect that this story, after 294 years, is not over just yet.