Face of the Day

A copyright lawsuit over Colin Craig’s poetry is going to have its day in court after all.

The former Conservative Party leader has won his appeal of a decision to throw the case out as “vexatious”, despite those opposing him saying he’s had enough court time.

Mr Craig last year took WhaleOil blogger Cameron Slater to court for publishing his poem Two of Me on his blog, along with Taxpayers’ Union director Jordan Williams for giving Mr Slater the poem.

The poem was written to Mr Craig’s former press secretary, who later accused him of sexual harassment.

Judge Mary Beth Sharp threw Mr Craig’s copyright lawsuit out before it went to trial in December, calling it “vexatious”, “improper” and a “deception perpetrated on the court”.

But Mr Craig’s lawyers this week appealed that decision in the High Court, saying he should have been cut a “bit more slack” because he wasn’t a legal expert and had run the case himself.

Justice Mark Woolford has now allowed the appeal, saying “Mr Craig’s claim cannot be seen as groundless”.

“Even if Mr Craig’s primary motivation was to protect his reputation, I am of the view that his copyright claim should still be determined on its merits,” he said.

“He is entitled to have his day in court.”

Justice Woolford also noted Mr Craig viewed himself as “a poet of some literary merit”.

Just like this blog isn’t considered part of the media because critics don’t like what it publishes, we can’t fall into the trap of not considering Mr Craig a poet because we don’t think his work merits such a label.

In fact, those arguments are totally irrelevant.  

Under New Zealand law, the person that orders the creation of “The Work” is automatically considered the copyright owner.  There is no need to do anything else.

So the issue isn’t about Mr Craig being a legitimate copyright holder.  He is.

By giving the poem to Rachel MacGregor, he did not transfer those rights.  He remains the copyright owner.

The salient part that comes with the Copyright Act is the ability to reproduce a work, or part of it, for the purposes of review.

The poem was part of a multi-page letter.  Even though the poem was published, it formed part of a larger copyrighted work.

The purpose it was published wasn’t because it was a poem.  It wasn’t placed on a website that reviews literary work.  It was relevant because it proved that there was (and I am now quoting Mr Craig directly) “inappropriate behaviour” that Mr Craig still denied at that stage.

This “inappropriate behaviour” led to his press secretary quitting two days before the election, and arguably causing the Conservative Party to miss making it into parliament.

This makes the letter from Mr Craig to Ms MacGregor, and the poem that formed part of it newsworthy.

The poem was scheduled to be published 15 minutes after Mr Craig’s press conference in which he admitted “inappropriate behaviour” to the nation via all major media.  It was published 15 minutes earlier due to the conference running late to its publicly scheduled time.

The poem was picked up by other media and republished.  It remains published.  Once again, only Whaleoil, a comparatively small media outlet when stacked against TVNZ, TV3, Radio New Zealand and all the others combined, is being singled out as having breached copyright.

You might think that’s because it was the first to publish.   Well, that would be a reasonable point to make if it wasn’t for the Craig v Slater case where Craig sued Whaleoil for republishing portions of content from other media.

Craig at first denied he had written the poem.   Then he admitted that he had written it, but it was simply a piece between him and his press secretary that should never have been brought to the public’s attention.   And now he’s spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to claim $30,000 dollars in “damages” and forcing Whaleoil to face another legal bill running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

This is where that woman holding the scales with the blindfold on needs to take the blindfold off.  Treating this case in complete isolation to the ecosystem of cases Mr Craig has brought to court remains, in the words of Judge Mary Beth Sharp,  “vexatious”, “improper” and a “deception perpetrated on the court”.

It is therefore a good time to point out the elephant in the room.  In my view, Mr Craig does not consider winning necessary.  To him, grinding down all his opponents in a never-ending series of court events is enough of an achievement.   While he has millions to spend, he knows his opponents do not.

Colin Craig currently has 12 current defamation/copyright cases on the go.  All related to one originating incident.  The stepping down of Rachel MacGregor.

Such weaponising of the court system is indeed  “vexatious”, “improper” and a “deception perpetrated on the court”.  And treating the copyright case as a stand-alone event totally divorced from anything else is a serious error in legal judgement.

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