The Robinson Case: The Final Chapter
Last December 23, the Supreme Court of Canada partially overturned the decision of the Quebec Court of Appeal in the case of Cinar Corporation v. Robinson1 and reinstated most of the conclusions of the Quebec Superior Court.
In the 1980s, Claude Robinson (“Robinson”) developed a project for a television series entitled “The Adventures of Robinson Curiosity” (“Robinson Curiosity”). He partnered with Pathonic to whom he had presented his project. His copyright was registered shortly afterward and Productions Nilem Inc. (“Nilem”), of which he was the sole shareholder, was named owner of the copyright. In 1986, Pathonic partnered with Cinar so that Cinar could represent Pathonic’s interests in the United States. Cinar’s directors, Micheline Charest and Ronald Weinberg, were provided with a copy of all of the documents for the Robinson Curiosity project. However, the project never saw the light of day.
In parallel with Robinson’s activities, during the 1990s, a producer with France Animation, Christophe Izard, presented a project for a televised series whose main character was named Robinson Sucroë (“Sucroë”). Cinar was involved as early as 1992 in the production of this project, and, as of 1993, in the writing and co-script writing under contracts with France Animation.
Robinson continued his work on his Curiosity project during 1994. In August 1995, Cinar registered copyright to the Sucroë project which was first broadcast in September 1995. Robinson immediately noticed similarities between the Sucroë project and his Curiosity project.
In July 1996, Robinson and Nilem Inc. brought an action for damages and an injunction against Cinar, Charest, Weinberg, France Animation, Izard and other European partners, including Ravensburger and the BBC, alleging plagiarism of their work.
DECISION OF THE SUPERIOR COURT OF QUÉBEC
After 83 days of trial, Justice Claude Auclair concluded that the defendants had had access to the Robinson Curiosity project and work during the 1980s.
The judge found that even though the Robinson Curiosity work had not been completed, it was nevertheless an original work because it was sufficiently developed and advanced. There were many similarities between the characters and drawings of Sucroë and the original Robinson Curiosity project, despite some misleading changes. According to the Court, a layperson would have been convinced of the similarity, which gave rise to a presumption of infringement that was not rebutted by the defendants.
The Court found the defendants solidarily liable and that Cinar and its two directors, Charest and Weinberg, had violated their obligations of good faith and loyalty. Therefore, Charest and Weinberg could not hide behind the corporate veil to escape their liability.
The injunctions issued applied against the BBC preventing it from broadcating Sucroë. The Court also ordered that the copies be returned, followed by their destruction within 60 days.
As for the damages, Justice Auclair ordered the defendants to pay a total of $5,224,293, detailed as follows:
- $607,489 in compensatory damages for pecuniary loss;
- $1,716,804 in loss of profits (50% of the profits earned by the Sucroë project, given the plaintiffs’ partnership with Pathonic);
- $400,000 for the psychological harm suffered by Robinson;
- $1,000,000 in punitive damages;
- $1,500,000 for costs on a solicitor-client basis, since the defendants tried to exhaust the plaintiffs in their conduct of the proceeding.