Vancouver Aquarium files lawsuit against documentary filmmaker

VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver Aquarium has filed a lawsuit alleging copyright infringement by a filmmaker whose documentary was critical of the facility's treatment of dolphins and beluga whales.

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Gary Charbonneau's documentary "Vancouver Aquarium Uncovered" was posted on YouTube and Vimeo, but he said Vimeo took down the film last week.

A notice of civil claim stated Charbonneau and his company Evotion Films Inc. used images and video from the aquarium's official website and blog without permission, and that he violated a contract allowing him to film at the facility.

"The defendants have each been guilty of reprehensible, insulting, high-handed, spiteful, malicious and oppressive conduct," the notice said.

"Such conduct by the defendants justifies the court in imposing a substantial penalty of exemplary damages on the defendants, imposing an award of aggravated damages."

The aquarium claimed general and special damages. It said Charbonneau violated the terms of a contract allowing him to film at the premises when he used the footage for commercial purposes.

The facility is also seeking an injunction to remove the video from YouTube, the filmmaker's website and any other public location.

The North Vancouver-based filmmaker and entrepreneur said a fair-use defence would apply because he gave proper credit and used the material to educate the public about the facility.

"When the aquarium has to go to these levels to silence a film, then there's something seriously wrong," he said Wednesday.

"They can't attack the facts, they can't assault the information that's contained within the film, so now they're trying other avenues."

The documentary alleges that belugas kept in captivity have a much higher infant death rate than those in the wild and that the aquarium is buying dolphins from Japan under the pretence of a rescue and rehabilitation program.

None of the allegations have been tested in court.

The aquarium has published a lengthy blog post disputing many of the film's allegations and accusing Charbonneau of deliberately creating an inaccurate and misleading movie.

The post said that over a 39-year period, four beluga calves have died at the aquarium due to unrelated and unpreventable causes. The two dolphins that arrived at the facility in 2005 from Japan were rescued as badly injured animals caught in fixed fishing nets, it added.

The aquarium said in a statement Wednesday that it has taken great care to develop educational materials intended to promote conservation and it's important to protect them from inappropriate use.

"We encourage open discussions about topics related to marine science -- those discussions should be grounded in truth and facts."

YouTube has an online form for submitting copyright infringement complaints. The website did not immediately respond to questions about whether it would remove the film.

Anna Pippus, a lawyer with advocacy group Animal Justice, said companies like YouTube frequently remove content once a lawsuit alleging copyright infringement has been filed.

"If you make a copyright claim they may not take it down, but if you can prove that you've filed in court they will take it down," she said. "That's their standard."

The suit also named a Jane Doe and John Doe who "assisted" the filmmaker and company in committing the causes of action, but their identities are not known to the aquarium.

Charbonneau said he has no idea who the two unnamed defendants could be.



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