Calgarian Digital Rights Activists Organize to Make Copyright Election Issue

Making copyright an election issue has been largely an underground movement. That could change in later legs of the Canadian election if meetings as scheduled in Calgary continue.

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

Can copyright be an election issue? That’s a tall order considering how other issues like the economy, gas prices, the televised debates and job security have been dominating the discussions so far. While not necessarily an election issue on the main stream media conscious, there is a movement among some who plan on organizing people to discuss ways to make copyright an election issue.

The Meeting in Calgary

While the road to making copyright an election issue may not be easy, a meeting in Calgary Alberta appears to be a great start to making that road easier. According to the FaceBook page, it’s scheduled to be at the University of Calgary between 7-00PM to 10:00PM on September 17th in Room MLT 909, MacKimmie Library Tower.

“We need your help in this election from now till Oct 14th.” The organizer wrote on the main meeting web page. It continues on with the following:

When the Calgary MPs, including Prime Minister Harper and Minister Prentice took our votes for granted and decided they don’t need to be in Calgary to hear the voters’ questions and concerns, lets give them some reasons to come back to their own ridings to earn our votes for a change.

In a democracy, our voices should make a difference. As we have seen in the recent flip & flop of the leaders’ debates arrangement, we know they can hear our voices when we speak loud and clear.

Are you ready to speak loud and clear? Please join us in this meeting to make a difference.

While it’s a great start, it seems as though the first three people commenting suggested that they won’t be able to attend at that time. Still, that likely won’t stop the organization taking place since all the organization around the meeting is being organized online in the first place.

A Precedent Set

Alberta has been seen as a Conservative party stronghold (the Conservative party was the governing party in Canada) election after election and the previous one was no exception having won every seat. While a stronghold, some voters who are concerned about copyright may remember all too well how during the last election, Liberal MP Sam Bulte lost her seat likely due to outrage over her position on copyright reform (she also tabled controversial copyright reform bill when the Liberal party of Canada was in power before) Whether or not something like that can happen this time around is unclear, but many have an example of success when they disagreed with an MPs position – even if some question whether or not it was really copyright that cost the Liberal her seat.

In the weeks leading up to the election, many organizations spoke out against copyright reform including those in the music and arts community. Several masthead editorials have been documented by University Law professor Michael Geist on his blog – many of which have been critical about the recent iteration of what has been widely dubbed, “The Canadian DMCA”. Geist also documented several town hall meetings organized by many MPs to discuss copyright reform.

It’s movements like this that may have a few taking a double take on the issues of copyright. Before the previous Liberal government, copyright laws were only a concern to a very small fraction of people including law professors, some economists and major corporate interests. Copyright was hardly an issue the public saw as even worth mentioning at all because of it’s seemingly dull nature. Not too long ago, Jim Prentice was about to table copyright reform legislation and tens of thousands of Canadians joined a Facebook page to oppose it. When word got out that there was a major movement afoot to oppose the legislation, Prentice pulled the legislation off the table before anyone outside of Conservative insiders got a chance to see it. Just ten years ago, town hall meetings and rally’s over copyright would be completely unheard of.

The movement, while extremely strong and attaining mainstream attention at the time, may have cooled off somewhat since then. This is not because the issues were less of a hot topic, but because other issues like the price of gasoline and jitters over the economy have taken over so far. Some suggest that it may be possible that the Conservatives could win a majority government. While on the surface this seems to be not related to copyright reform, but in actuality, it greatly affects the future of copyright reform.

Liberal Copyright Reform

When the Liberal government tabled Bill C-60 previously, controversy surrounded the issues (not as big as what was seen during the Conservative government) presented in the legislation. Michael Geist and several other professors published a book called “In the Public Interest” and caused some stir to shine the spotlight on what was going on. At the time, it was a minority government. When the government was toppled, so did the legislation.

There was a prevailing theory at the time that the Liberal party was corrupt. The attempted copyright reform was likely seen by many consumer rights activists as just an extension to that corruption since the prevailing theme at the time was the Liberal party taking money kickback schemes and accepting large sums of lobbying money. Indeed, this theme was continued when she met several foreign lobbyist groups and accepted several large donations from many including CRIA (Canadian Recording Industry Association) which has been long since been seen as merely the RIAA’s (Recording Industry Association of America) working arm in Canada because a vast majority of influence originates from the big four record labels outside of Canada.

During a debate held in her riding while being questioned about her ethics on the matter, she lashed out at voters saying that she is standing up for the interests of artists and she won’t allow Michael Geist, EFF and his “pro-user zealots” to stop her. She then went on to lose to the candidate from the NDP in that election in her riding.

Conservative Copyright Reform

Many Canadians saw the Conservative election ads with the predominant message of “Stand up for Canada” and voting for “change”. Since the Conservative party hadn’t gotten a chance to even tackle copyright legislation on the government side of the house, it’s not hard to see at this point why people concerned with copyright reform would easily vote for that party. Indeed, the Conservative ads were largely seen as a success when the party took power.

Several people who watched over the copyright reform legislation process hoping that something more balanced would surfaced were infuriated when rumors began to surface that legislation similar to that of the Liberal’s Bill C-60 would soon be tabled.

Bev Oda (at that point, the Minister of Canadian Heritage) continued to say that she was still working on the legislation and that appropriate balance would be made through the legislation. After little movement was made, the copyright issue was passed onto then Minister of Industry, Maxime Bernier. Same rumors surfaced that it wasn’t going to strike the appropriate balance, same word from the Minister that it would, same result. After a cabinet shuffle, the legislation was, again, passed along to Jim Prentice. After Facebook got the legislation yanked from the table initially, but brought back later on.

After it was tabled, the general consensus was that the legislation was even worse than the rumors were suggesting. Michael Geist, perhaps, said it best when he described the revealing of the Canadian DMCA (Bill C-61) as “betrayal” due to the fact that the two major parties tabled very similar legislation even though everyone was under the impression that the two major political parties in Canada were seen as vastly different ideologically. The party has since bore the brunt of controversy over copyright reform.

Copyright Reform Today, Lessons Learned?

With both the Liberal Party of Canada and the Conservative Party of Canada tabling legislation that seems to only suit the interests of a few foreign corporate lobbyists, it can be easily seen as though voting for either party will result in similar legislation being tabled a third time.

Some, however, suggest that voting for the Liberal party would be different this time – probably perhaps many of these opinions originate from people only aware of the issues while the Conservative government were in power.

The issues bring a very interesting twist to copyright debates, what happens when both major political parties support the ideas of the few at the expense of the population of Canada? An interesting dilemma indeed. Some may just vote for the two major political parties because of other issues since it’s still unlikely that the NDP will become the next governing party at this time. While this is a thought, there’s also an issue that wasn’t really seen in the previous election – a majority government.

It’s hard for some to believe that something like a minority government situation which has been seen as the reason the government isn’t doing anything has actually been producing a favorable result through inaction, but the successive governments toppling has been the only real reason why Canadians still haven’t seen a Canadian DMCA. If there is a majority government, there is no real way to oppose any potential (at this point, seemingly likely) draconian copyright reform – thus allowing easy passage in spite of any amount of opposition publicly or politically.

Political Ignorance or Lip Service and Carelessness?

Lost in all of this is the question of why hasn’t the public been adequately consulted? Following up the question, why have a minority been able to dictate how copyright reform will go with thousands of Canadians getting shafted in the House of Commons after the election signs are taken down? Many simply blame the money trail through huge lobbying efforts.

There have been town hall meetings already and politicians have been coming out to talk to the public, the question remains, when the pressure to win votes are gone and the attack ads are finally off the air, will it be all for nothing and Canadians will simply see another draconian copyright reform bill? If anything, many politicians have been consulted and some have noted that concern for copyright related issues have been surprisingly popular (technology seems to have a funny way of making copyright a hot-button issue) these days. It’s unlikely that politicians are ignorant on the public interest on these issues, but whether the concerns from people are even going to be relevant after the election remains to be seen. For now, MPs are willing to do many things for votes at this point in time.

What else remains to be seen is whether this meeting in Calgary will gain momentum country-wide with others quizzing MPs on the issues of copyright reform. While a simple web-page right now, it could result in getting people moving. Fair Copyright for Canada was started by Michael Geist as a test and it has grown into a group of nearly 92,000 members – enough to delay one Canadian DMCA it seems. In other words, there’s plenty of promise for such movements, but a lot of work needs to be done still to push the copyright reform issues back up to the peak level when Jim Prentice was swarmed by protesters in his riding.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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