Canada on Copyright Reform

A lot of mystery, worry and suspense has been drawn from the copyright debate in Canada. However some concerns may have cleared with the recent transcript release of a standing committee discussion on copyright reform in Canada.

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

The topics range from educational rights to peer-to-peer technology all the way to performing rights and DRM (Digital Rights Management.) Unfortunately, it seemed to raise even more questions than answers. Perhaps the biggest question that arises from all of this might be, ‘Will the government be able to handle the scope of copyright or is the issue too complicated?’

Some may remember the earlier mission for copyright reform was to “have a made-in-Canada” approach. Does that describe how things will be done? Hardly. There are many mentions of WIPO, but no real description of how it will be implemented – especially when it’s tied with the seemingly standard line.

While the transcript is lengthy, it provides insight into various members’ opinions – or lack thereof – on various issues. The first burning question was asked by Charlie Angus, “My first question is short. When is the bill coming?” To which Danielle Bouvet responds, “That’s an easy answer. There has been no decision. Minister Oda said she wanted to table the bill as soon as possible, and we’re working under that assumption.”

This exchange was the last moment the meeting on copyright reform stayed simple; as it opened up the floodgates onto issues on DRM and the WIPO treaties. Should DRM protections be implemented? Should WIPO be ratified and in what ways? Interesting views were brought forward for both for and against – thus revealing stances as well on the issues.

There has been the matter of the private copying levy that popped up in the copyright debate. Graham Henderson, president of the CRIA (Canadian Recording Industry Association) was noted once for saying that he wants to do away with the private copying levy at one point. The issue of the levy was, indeed, brought up in the debate as well.

Charlie comments, “I understand that some of the large record industry representatives are now down on the blank copying levy, even though it’s a guaranteed form of providing remuneration to artists.

“Again, looking at the United States, where we’ve seen copyright laws being used to sue 12-year-old kids in the schoolyard who trade Alanis Morissette CDs, I’m wondering, is there a push within your department to remove the blank copying levy? That would mitigate any damages that would be used against a large label if they were suing kids.”

Danielle responded, “At this point, there has been no decision to repeal the home copying regime. […] this government has not made a call to repeal the home copying regime.”

So at this point, perhaps the levy will stay. Critics argue that the levy does cover file-sharing (in addition to other copy mediums) in Canada. Many point to Graham Henderson’s comments on doing away with the private copying levy. Would keeping the levy also protect Canadians from lawsuits from the CRIA in the future?

The debate then shifted to another topic – copying in general. Committee member Maka Kotto asks, “Were the status quo to be maintained, what would you say to the thousands of writers — bearing in mind that, in Quebec, only 9 per cent of authors are able to live off their royalties — who see their work being endlessly photocopied or reproduced on the Internet? This is one of the matters that we had to address last year when we began studying Bill C-60. What would you say to these people?”

Danielle answers, “[…]Writers already enjoy reproduction and communication rights, which allow them to maintain control over their works.”

Mauril Bélanger wanted to know who was contacting the government to weigh in with their concerns, but Danielle said that it wasn’t possible at that specific time to give those details. It was later concluded that the list would be ‘an entire chapter’ worth of names. It was later questioned on whether or not such a list was needed – particularly by Jim Abbott, but one commented that their grievances over the copyright reform bill should be noted – even the petitions.

Jim Fast worried over respect for intellectual property. He used file-sharing, CD ripping and plagiarism among other thins as examples of a ‘lack of respect for intellectual property’.

One interesting question by Charlie Angus was the following, “How are we, when we’re looking at this, responding to the needs of forward-looking legislation? For example, have there been any moves to outlaw peer-to-peer technology? That has been identified as a big source of illegal trade in both music and movies. It’s also an emerging technology that we haven’t really even come to terms with in respect of its possibility for creating new markets. What’s the balance that’s happening right now with Industry Canada in terms of examining, say, peer-to-peer as a threat, or as a potential new market?”

Albert Cloutier responded to these questions with this: “I have to say I’m not aware of pushes that target that technology as such.”

Understandably, the members were probably feeling very confused about everything. One candidate even requested a flow-chart in a bid to make these issues easier to understand. Towards the end, Danielle concluded, “The issues are very complex, as you can see. The new government needs time to adapt to them and properly estimate the scope of the amendments. It must become familiar with the various issues. All we want is to act as promptly as possible. But the issue is very complicated.”

The Chair concluded the meeting with the following comment: “I know it’s extremely complex. I have met with a lot of the groups, and I know I will be meeting with a lot of them again.

Again, I must say thank you very much for your great answers today. I thought some were a little inhibitive.”

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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