Broadcasters Fail to Bring Copyright into Canadian National Debates

Hundreds of thousands of Canadians have had copyright on their minds as they went into the current election.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

In spite of a major grassroots movement to make copyright an election issue, the broadcasters seemed to have shut the issue out of the national leaders debate entirely.

The underlying idea of a national leaders debate in Canada is to bring forth as many of the issues Canadians are concerned about. Understandably, the biggest one is economic issues. However, one of the issues that has been circulating in discussions across the country is related to copyright. Certainly, one of the more vocal, and largest, group of people that are concerned about copyright is ordinary consumers — many of which who are familiar with file-sharing and the opportunities p2p brings to Canadian culture. This alone counters the idea that only people who download copyrighted content on p2p networks are concerned about copyright law. The list of concerned groups and organizations has proven to be extremely extensive.

One such organization is the Canadian Library Association whome Canadian Student Federation warned of the dangers of copyright reform as proposed by the Conservative government recently. Many in the arts community through the Appropriation Arts condemned Bill C-61. It is widely aknowledged that the biggest group in Canada concerned with copyright is the Fair Copyright for Canada movement which has over 92,000 members who signed up to be a part of the group concerned with copyright. On top of it all, Michael Geist, a well known law professor who maintains a blog about Canadian related issues spear-headed a minature campaign to submit questions to the election debates. Though he’s more well known these days to be running the Copyright pledge campaign fairly successfully. Proving that this issue isn’t solely an internet phenominon, the copyright debate came directly to Jim Prentice’s riding before he tabled the legislation. A video of this was posted on YouTube proving this. In fact, people lobbied Prentice to appear on CBC’s Search Engine. He made an appearance on Search Engine and the interview instantly became controversial and has been remixed out of dissatisfaction of his answers (not to mention the fact that he hung up in the middle of the interview). A clip of this was posted on YouTube.

In spite of all of this, the issue of copyright never came up in the national leaders debate. With such a focus on copyright and getting questions submitted to the national leaders debate, the issues were effectively blocked even when the issue of culture appeared in the English debates.

There has been a lot of criticism towards both the governments after they tabled their copyright reform legislation — mainly that there has been no adequate public consultation — let alone the contents of the bill which we reviewed at length here on ZeroPaid.

It’s worth noting that the issue of culture did come up during the debates and it featured the cuts the government made to cultural funding. It would be a tough sell to suggest that this was a larger issue then copyright because the arts cut affects people who are part of the process of creating content while copyright everyone who is a part of the culture of Canadian society. In any event, it seems fair to say that the broadcasters have effectively censored this debate during the national leaders debate.

Having said this, while the mainstream media, in this instance, didn’t seem to want the issues being brought forth, it’s not like the Canadian public do anything to talk to their representatives about copyright related issues. There have been town hall meetings to discuss copyright related issues.

The NDP seems to at lest recognize this since Charlie Angus, one of the most outspoken critic of restrivtive copyright reform in the House of Commons, issued a press release urging people who are concerned with these issues to go out and vote on election day. Here’s a sample from his press release:

“The NDP have stood alone in the House of Commons fighting for a balanced, and progressive approach to digital issues.We have consistently stood up against the Conservatives’ corporate agenda. Now it’s time for the digital community to get active and help us fight back against the regressive Conservative vision.”

He points to the battle against the Conservative’s copyright legislation Bill C-61.

“Stephen Harper has shown again and again his contempt for Canadian consumers and artists. Bill C-61 will criminalize fans, leave artists on the sidelines and offer a windfall to corporate lawyers.”

Angus says artists, educators and innovators need to come together to in this crucial election.

“The NDP understands that artists need to get paid in the digital world. We understand that consumers have a right to enjoy digital content. This election could be a turning point for key issues like copyright and Net Neutrality. The NDP are the one party who understands the importance of these issues.”

With all this momentum to push copyright to the forefront of this election, the failure of broadcasters to recognize copyright is an important issue for Canadians has more than likely re-opened the digital divide between major broadcasters and the online and digital world. For observers who have been watching these issues for several years now, it provides a very familiar sensation of two completely separate worlds where the major broadcasters barely recognize the internet as something to watch while people find that there is a cherry picked selection of issues that the broadcasters feel is worth noting and turn to the internet to get uncensored news that matters to them. Since the internet is such a big revolution that has been going on for several years and addoption has only increased dramatically, it’s no surprise that people recognize that the internet is a means to bi-pass the filtered media, learn about the important issues and contact their representatives and/or vote accordingly during an election.

Still, the question remains, will it be enough to translate into a sufficient number of votes to make a difference? It has in the past when Sam Bulte lost her seat due to her radical views of copyright which didn’t jive well with Canadian voters back in 2005. So counting the online movement out at this stage would very likely be a mistake.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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