A new year is here again…

After a winter that would have caused even the Abominable Snowman to consider decamping to Hawaii, it is safe to say that we were all looking forward to three or four months of warm weather. Well, it’s the end of August and – apart from a few bracing blasts of heat –  we’re still waiting. And guess what? It’s already time to return to school, as today’s start of O-Week attests to.

It’s hard to believe that eight years ago, I was in the exact same position – a freshly minted Section A Ozzie. As many of the current crop can doubtlessly attest, the feeling is a mixture of exhilaration and sheer terror. Everybody has heard the stories of the brutalizing effect that law school can have (or have, at the very least, seen the Paper Chase) and it would be a lie to say that the pressure – particularly at exam time – doesn’t weigh heavily. It does, and you’ll have to do it at least six times before you graduate. But it is also counterbalanced by meeting a wide number of interesting people – some of whom will undoubtedly become friends, and many of whom will be future colleagues (which you would be wise to remember) – and many good times. The adage of working hard and playing hard is seldom more true than the three years you will put in to get your J.D.

The temptation exists to be all-law all-the-time, but that’s a quick route to burning out. Maintain pre-law school interests, friends, and relationships. Work out. Join something (I was the editor of the Obiter Dicta for two years). Do whatever it takes to break the spell from periodically. You may think that perpetually dreaming of Hadley v. Baxendale, Foakes v. Beer, and the thin-skull principle is healthy. It’s not. Your brain will be overworked and overtired as it is, so give it a break from time to time. Otherwise, it will make you something something.

While the library may be a focal point for your studying and, by extension, associated with the stress of keeping up to date with your readings, drafting summaries, and generally working harder than you’ve ever had to in your academic careers, this isn’t our sole purpose. Or it shouldn’t be, at least. Believe it or not, we want to make the library as pleasant and helpful a place as possible for our users.

While we work hard on the day-to-day realities of keeping the collections current and maintaining Canada’s largest law library, we also have a vested interest in making the lives of students less stressful and (hopefully) improving your overall law school experience.

Don’t know something? Ask us. Can’t find something? Ask us. Feeling stressed out and overwhelmed? Tell us.

Our resources are not intended to be well-guarded secrets, knowable only to those who possess the requisite knowledge. That’s why we go out of our way to come to your classes and tell you about how to research, prepare LibGuides, maintain a reference e-mail account, and spend time at the reference desk – to ensure that our students can reap the fullest rewards of their years of law school. Much like your knees, you’ll miss them when they’re gone.

In the meantime, enjoy the rest of the summer. If the Farmer’s Almanac is right, you’ll be grateful that you did. Winter (and exams) will feel like this:

Good luck!

“That’s the letter U and the numeral 2″

The cover of the now-notorious Negativland “U2″ EP

With the recent passing of Casey Kasem, known primarily in the US as the voice of the “American Top 40″ radio countdown and as the voice of Shaggy in the “Scooby-Doo” cartoons, I thought of one of Kasem’s more notorious outings, and one that was an early example of current hot-button topics such as copyright, fair use (an American term, sure, but increasingly close to Canadian-style fair dealing), and transformative use.

Long before law and librarianship beckoned as potential career paths, I really, really wanted to be involved in either film or television, and as part of a high school co-op program, I secured a placement at Global Television, which was a fantastic experience with lots of great memories. My boss was a former DJ and dyed-in-the-wool evangelist for radio (this was the late 90s, so pre-podcast radio-is-dying-or-dead), and I will forever remember a key piece of advice that he imparted – and one that is equally applicable in radio, television, or film – which was that if a microphone is in front of you, you have to respect it and assume that it is on. In other words, watch what you say or do, as you never know when the tape might be rolling. Many, many, many radio, TV, and film personalities have forgotten this fundamental tenet, to their everlasting embarrassment (Gord Martineau, we’re looking at you).YouTube could barely exist without this gift that keeps giving.

Pre-internet, Casey Kasem was a victim of this truism, when in 1991 the band Negativland managed to thoroughly embarrass and infuriate not only Kasem, but also the band U2′s record label, Island Records, with the release of their “U2″ EP. Somehow Negativland had managed to obtain outtakes from “American Top 40″ that captured Kasem ranting in a manner that was very, very much contrary to his relatively wholesome public image. The outtakes were interspersed with what can only be described as an cacophony that also includes snippets from and open mockery of the then-recent U2 songs “Where the Streets Have No Name” and, particularly,  “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For“. The EP had two tracks – “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (1991 A Capella Mix)” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (Special Edit Radio Mix)” which, despite effectively being disappeared in the pre-internet age, have managed to continue to exist thanks to YouTube and even a later CD release of questionable legality (but awesome title).

It is possible that Negativland would have been able to have the EP released without incident but for the album art, rather than its content. It was released just before U2′s landmark album Achtung Baby, and the giant “U2″ on the cover was seen to be misleading by U2′s record label, which successfully sued for copyright infringement in order to get the album off the shelves.

It is an interesting case, especially 23 years on, as it was coming at the tail end of a period in which sampling without attribution was a pretty common practice (as was the case in a ton of old hip-hop and rap albums and songs, notably Paul’s Boutique, Three Feet High and Rising, and “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” – among many, many others), but was ever-increasingly being curtailed by litigation surrounding the use of uncleared samples. In the realm of mainstream music, at least, sampling has largely become the reserve of wealthy, major-label acts who can afford the time and trouble to obtain clearance for recognizable samples. There are plenty of exceptions, of course, with so-called “mash-ups” becoming a recognizable and viable genre. Record labels like Illegal Art have managed to continue their existence and release music by acts such as Girl Talk, despite their dubious legality and artists like DJ Shadow and the Avalanches have largely evaded closer scrutiny by dicing the majority of samples until they’re unrecognizable.

The difference with Negativland was the fact that they embraced the notoriety that the case brought (and even published a book about it – alas, we don’t have it) and it stands as the closest thing that they have to a “hit” record, a fact that is all the more remarkable given that this whole scenario unfolded prior to the ubiquity of the internet. It is impossible to say how it would have unfolded today, but it would certainly have been very, very different. For a comparison, just take a look at Danger Mouse’s Grey Album mix of Jay-Z’s Black Album and the Beatles’ White Album on YouTube. Once the genie was out of the bottle, it was impossible to put back in.

The scourge of York?

“Don’t like me? Too bad!”
*blows raspberry*

While the issue of campus safety is one that has always been something of an elephant in the room at York – especially of late – there is another animal that lurks in the periphery of our consciousness and every year rears its head. Of course, I am referring to the Canada Geese that, as of this writing, have returned to campus, along with their incessant squawking, grazing, vaguely malevolent staring from rooftops, and, of course, their rather casual approach to bathroom habits (which, incidentally, in addition to being merely gross, is also toxic). They are rather like an unwanted house guest who make themselves comfortable and refuse to leave, all the while befouling your daily space.

Despite their inarguable nuisance factor, they are a protected species under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994, wherein, in a worst-case scenario, the maximum punishment is a million dollar fine and a maximum jail term of three years. However, contrary to popular belief, it is not entirely illegal to kill them – it just needs to be done at the right time and place (i.e. with a license and during the appropriate season). It should also be noted that even if you try your best Katniss Everdeen impersonation on one, it might not necessarily kill it. As is often the case with such legislation, the minutiae are to be found in the act’s regulations. It is curious, though, that even thought it is a protected species under the MBCA, Environment Canada admits that their population growth is outstripping hunting, despite the fact that “the limits have been liberalized to the extent possible within the limits permitted for hunting seasons under the MBCA.”

Looking eastward, another invasive Canadian icon is in the news today, as a class action lawsuit began in Newfoundland over the government’s (in)action in managing the moose population, although personally a Canada Goose is a much less potentially intimidating prospect than a moose.

If you do decide to take matters into your own hands, apparently Canada Goose is lovely with teriyaki sauce.

 

Spring has sprung – now start studying!

The reality of exams dawns…

It’s the first day of spring (just don’t look outside), and of course that means that if you haven’t started to feel the end-of-term crunch, you will (and probably should!) very soon.

Of course, the library should be a major focal point for your study and research (if it’s not, for shame!), and we’re here to help. This post is intended as a capsule-sized survivor’s guide to the basics needed to get through the home stretch.

Our extended hours will start the week of March 31st, 2014 and go until Friday, April 25th. We will switch to summer hours on Monday, April 28th. The extended hours will be until 11 p.m. every night. As a result, our hours are will run from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. from Monday to Friday and from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

Reference hours will remain unchanged, so if you wish to speak with a reference librarian at the reference desk, our usual reference hours are Monday to Friday from 10 am to 4 pm. It is also possible to make an appointment to speak with one of us outside of those hours, but in such cases please make an appointment, either by dropping by the desk or by e-mailing us – either personally or via the library e-mail at library@osgoode.yorku.ca. That e-mail is the same one you should use if you have a reference question that hits you at 3:30 in the morning. It will be handled when the desk is opened the next business day.

No food, crunchy or otherwise, is allowed. However, drinks in a lidded container are fine. Coffee is the life-blood of stressed law students, and we will not stand in your way of caffeinated highs. Just remember that sleep is just as important (but please, try and go home to catch it). Speaking from personal experience, law exams are ten times worse if you’re overly tired, so some shut-eye is crucially important!

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask. We’re here to help you out, answer questions, and hopefully soothe frayed nerves!

Good luck everybody!

Eastern European and CIS Law

Given the near-ubiquity of Ukraine and Russia, along with the attendant complicated history and politics that run deep between them, in the news over the past weeks and months, it would seem that it would be a good time to do a brief blog post on available resources for legal research former Soviet CIS (Commenwealth of Independent States) states.

The ongoing Russian invasion of Crimea almost seems to read like a fact pattern for an international law or international relations exam. Multiple violated treaties, violations of international conventions, trumped-up justifications for invasion and so on – not to mention the Cold War and Great Game rhetoric and power struggles that just won’t seem to die. Which, of course, means that it is a fascinating situation to watch unfold, as the Guardian’s daily live updates of the situation have proven. Thankfully, the human cost has, at the time of this writing, been mercifully modest. On a personal note, my wife grew up in Crimea and my in-laws still reside there, so it is something that has struck a resonant chord – not to mention tremendous nervousness.

As the Ukrainian crisis has amply demonstrated, the rule of law – along with the accompanying legal frameworks – is hardly robust in many parts of the former Soviet Union. This makes legal research problematic, as the law does not necessarily represent the way the legal system actually works – “dualism” is a long-standing tradition in Russian law.

Our hard copy collection of materials on this area is modest, although we do have a handful. The leading English-language scholar of Russian and former Soviet law is William Butler, from whom we have quite a few texts that he either wrote or translated. Two that are particularly notable right now are International Law: A Russian Introduction and a largely Russian text on comparative law, Foundations of Comparative Law, which includes an essay entitled “Place of Ukraine on the legal map of the world”. Another author whose work is worth consulting is Igor Kavass, whose bibliographies of Soviet and early post-Soviet Russian law are exhaustive.

The usual suspects in terms of databases and eResources are also a rich source of secondary material, and there are also some specialized resources that are useful as well. HeinOnline’s World Constitutions Illustrated is an excellent source of, as the name suggests, world constitutions, both current and historical. There are also selected articles, commentaries, and bibliographies. The turmoil of Russia’s 20th century history is highlighted by the list of constitutions in 1917, 1918 (twice), 1923/24, 1925, 1936, 1937, 1947, 1977, 1978, and 1993.

Another fantastic resource is the Foreign Law Guide, which is a regularly updated source of both primary and secondary information on foreign legal systems. There is often legal history, commentary, and a selection of the best sources on myriad areas of the law in many countries. Not everything is readily available, but where possible they will link to online resources.

As always, if you are stuck or looking for places to start, you can come by and speak with a librarian. We’re here to help!

Scottish Law – More different than you might think!

Having just returned from Scotland this past week, I feel compelled to write about Scots law which, though it is part of the UK (for now), is markedly different from English law.

With the referendum on Scottish independence set for September 18 of this year, there has been a tremendous amount of discussion into the parallels between the Scottish and Québécois experiences in their quest for independence. The parallels are numerous (as are the differences, for that matter), but a key similarity that leaps out is the fact that they have very different – and yet strongly intertwined – legal systems. While they are both heavily indebted to the common and civil traditions, Scots law has arguably maintained an even stronger native character than the Québécois system. In an echo of Canadian and American divisions between the Federal government and states and provinces, the Scottish Parliament, first elected in 1999, exercises jurisdiction over all matters that are not specifically reserved to the UK parliament.

One of the most significant (and enduring) peculiarities is the “third option” in Scottish criminal law. While most people are familiar with the enduring, Manichean “guilty” vs. “not guilty” divide in most justice systems, the Scots have opted for and persisted with a third verdict – “not proven”. Otherwise known as the “bastard verdict”, it has been said that it is the equivalent of “we’ll no’ say ye did it, but then we’ll no’ affirm ye didna either.” It is certainly a curious idea – considered to be an acquittal, it still doesn’t conclusively dispel the notion of guilt either.

A further muddying of the waters with regard to guilt, innocence, and the apparent Scottish penchant for ambiguity in these matters hinges on jury trials. Unlike most jurisdictions that call for unanimous verdicts (an eternal source of drama such as with the classic 12 Angry Men), a simple majority of eight will suffice in Scotland (their criminal trial juries consist of 15 individuals) – even in cases that involved capital punishment. The somewhat tongue-in-cheek “Anomalies of Scots Law” from a 1919 Juridical Review notes that “we hope that these criticisms do not amount to high treason. The penalty for that crime is the drawing of the traitor to the scaffold on a hurdle, followed by execution or hanging, drawing, and quartering… why England only was favoured by the repeal of that penalty in 1870 seems itself an anomaly. It behoves one, however, to walk warily when it is borne in mind that in Scotland a jury, while it must remain closeted for three hours before returning a verdict by majority in a civil case [...] yet in a criminal trial may, by eight votes to seven, and after five minutes’ consideration or none at all, bring about the death of a fellow-subject.”

These are just a couple of (admittedly pretty significant) differences, with a whole host of others – large and small – that have allowed for the development of a body of laws and legal traditions that exist very much parallel but distinct from much of the rest of the Anglo-American legal tradition.

Given Canada’s strong Scottish heritage, it should be no surprise that the Osgoode library has a significant collection of material dedicated to Scots law, with the oldest being the succinctly and decidedly old-timey titled De verborum significatione : the exposition of the termes and difficill wordes, conteined in the four buikes of Regiam majestatem and uthers in the actes of Parliament, infeftments and used in practicque of this realme, with diuerse rules and commoun places of principalles of the lawes from 1597. This is simply one book from the 836 on Scots law in the Osgoode library alone, with a wide array of material available through databases, including the massive, impressive, and often fascinating Scottish Legal History collection on HeinOnline.

Finally, there is an up-to-the-minute research guide published in February 2014 specifically on Scottish Legal History on GlobalLex for those who may wish to delve deeper.

Canadian booze regulation – a chequered history

The state of Canadian liquor laws and regulations is something that occasionally crops up in op-eds across the country, but then quietly fades away only to flare up again periodically.

Although Prohibition in the popular consciousness has a distinctly American flavour, evoking images of Al Capone, speakeasies, and bathtub gin (as an era, it certainly has had legs, with HBO’s Boardwalk Empire and the Ken Burns series Prohibition being recent examples that have drawn from the enduring well of cultural fascination with all things Prohibition), it is often forgotten – or, at least, dimly remembered – that Canada also had Prohibition. While it was typically less stringent (for instance, the manufacture of booze was still allowed – unlike in the US, which was, in fact, an outstanding export market that exemplified the notion of supply and demand), it was also determined on a provincial basis. Quebec was one extreme (less than a year in 1919!) and PEI another (1901 to 1948), Ontario was officially dry for eleven years from 1916 to 1927. The US, by comparison, was dry from 1920 to 1933.

Yet, although Ontarian Prohibition was officially repealed in 1927 with the passage of the Liquor License Act (S.O. 1927 c. 70), dramatic change has been slow to come. It may seem hard to believe now that there are two breweries and a distillery based there (the latter, incidentally, was co-founded by Osgoode alum Jesse Razaqpur), but the Junction in Toronto was dry until 2000. Regardless of what criticisms have been levied at the current system of alcohol distribution in Ontario, the immediate post-prohibition system of alcohol distribution was far more restrictive and, at times, downright bizarre, with change extremely slow to come. For those who might be interested, Osgoode has a fascinating (if arcane) history of the LCBO’s post-prohibition system entitled Punched Drunk: Alcohol, Surveillance and the LCBO 1927-1975. There is also a book that is available both in hard copy (at Scott and Frost) as well as online entitled Try to Control Yourself: The regulation of post-prohibition drinking in Ontario, 1927-1944. For a less scholarly – but more fun – history of drinking in Canada, Cheers!: An Intemperate History of Beer in Canada is well worth a read.

Of course, while much has changed since 1927, booze in Canada is still very much strongly and strictly government-regulated by provincial liquor regulators. Reform is typically resisted on grounds of public health and safety (not to mention being a cash cow). Technically speaking there are limits on the amount of alcohol that can be legally taken over provincial borders (and they are sometimes even enforced!). But is this even a right that the provinces have? The Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act is the Federal act that provides this right to the provinces, but is this compatible with s. 121 of the Constitution Act, 1867 – which states that:

All Articles of the Growth, Produce, or Manufacture of any one of the Provinces shall, from and after the Union, be admitted free into each of the other Provinces.

In a series of articles in the Advocates’ Quarterly (here and here) and the Dalhousie Law Journal (here), Ian Blue, a lawyer at Gardiner Roberts, suggests that the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act runs afoul of the Constitution due to its contravention of s. 121. Which, as any first-year law student can tell you, is a bad thing.

While a constitutional challenge to completely overhaul an entrenched system like the system of alcohol delivery in Canada may seem unlikely, I’m sure many said that about prostitution as well.