Canada Could Face Election – What About Copyright Reform?

It’s distinctly possible that Canada could face an election soon as opposition leader Michael Ignatieff ponders on whether or not to force an election. Whether or not an election actually happens, it’s important for man to look back on the track record on the topic of copyright law reform – we take an in-depth look at this.

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

2004 – The Political Campaign

To get a broad look at how not only copyright laws were tabled, but what political parties said as well prior to the legislation being tabled during the election, we go clear back to 2004 when Liberal leader, Paul Martin, became Prime Minister. At the time, CIPPIC (Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic), sent out questions to all the political parties at the time. We’ll focus on the top two political parties for the first part of this article as they have been the parties who had the power to table copyright reform as the governing party.

The CIPPIC questions covered a wide range of topics that related to copyright including the discussion of file-sharing.

The Conservative party, even then, didn’t offer a response. However, the Liberal party did respond (PDF) with the following:

Thank you for your recent email concerning issues related to the Internet and new technologies. As you pointed out the expansion of copyright law in the digital domain, sharing of music files, the growth of span and the impact of new national security measures are all important current issues.
The Liberal Government considers copyright reform to be extremely important, and has been working for at least seven years on copyright changes required to adapt to the current economic, social, technological, and international environment.
The federal government is committed to ensuring that Canada’s copyright regime remains among the most modern and progressive in the world. The objectives to be met through the reform process are to:

– create opportunities for Canadians in the new economy;
– stimulate the production of cultural content and diversity of choices for Canadians;
– encourage a strong Canadian presence on the Internet; and,
– enrich learning opportunities for Canadians.

The Liberal party got elected into a minority situation that year.

2005 – Copyright Reform Tabled

In 2005, the Paul Martin government tabled Bill C-60 – an act to amend the copyright act. CIPPIC offered an in-depth analysis of the bill. The bill was first read on June 20, 2005.

In essence, Bill C-60 would offer legal protections to TPMs (Technological Protection Measures), legislate a notice-and-notice regime (as opposed to the notice-and-takedown regime as seen in the United States), essentially criminalizing the act of uploading copyrighted material (not necessarily downloading so long as the downloading is for personal use) and forces ISPs to hold identifiable information about any customer that receives a notice of copyright infringement for a period of 6 months so that copyright holders can decide whether or not to press charges for a maximum of a $10,000 fine.

Many who watched the copyright debates then heavily criticized the copyright legislation for being too restrictive and it never made it to second reading. As a consequence, the election forced it to die on the order-paper in 2006.

Election 2006 – The year of “change”

The then opposition leader, Stephen Harper, forced an election and was then elected as Prime Minister of Canada. During the campaign, a number of political things happened including the ever-famous “pro user zealots” comment by Sam Bulte, but we’ll focus on direct responses by the political parties.

Again, the Conservative party of Canada did not answer the wide range of questions posed by CIPPIC, however, the Liberal party did. Here’s the first question and response found here (PDF):

1. Copyright Law and Technical Protection Measures: Do you agree that we need legislation to protect Canadian firms from harmful technologies like the Sony-BMG rootkit DRM?

The Liberal Party of Canada supports technology that protects digital artistic content and we will continue to work hard to facilitate consensus amongst stakeholders in copyright matters. We introduced a wide ranging piece of copyright legislation in the last Parliamentary session that encourages creativity and protects the rights of creators, while ensuring diffusion of knowledge and access to cultural products.

he Liberal party lost their bid to be re-elected.

Bill C-61 – Canada’s DMCA of 2008

On June 12, 2008 – incidentally, a year and a day ago – , the Conservative government, who won the election on the guise of change in Canada, tabled Bill C-61. CIPPIC, again, offered an in-depth analysis on the legislation. Michael Geist labelled the Canadian DMCA as a “betrayal” as there were so many controversial provisions in it including the legal protection of TPMs.

Under Bill C-61, the use of Fair Dealings applies unless there is a “digital lock” on it. ISPs would be required to hold subscriber information for a period of 6 months when they receive a notice of a complaint from copyright holders – exactly like Bill C-60. File-sharers who upload copyrighted material would be liable for damages that are capped ($500 – $20,000). While there are capped liabilities, CIPPIC suggests that merely placing a copyrighted work into a shared directory could be constituted as copyright infringement.

An election was called and Bill C-61 effectively died on the order-paper.

2008 to Now

While a Conservative government was heavily criticized for tabling the legislation, after C-61 died on the order-paper, the Conservatives vowed via the Throne Speech to re-introduce the legislation, but, to date, that has never happened. As a result, the copyright debate in terms of copyright reform has remained relatively dormant to this day. The only legislative activity that was seen was a re-invigorated Pirate Party movement in Canada thanks mainly due to the more recent victory of the Pirate Party in Europe – winning two seats in the recent EU elections.

It’s not entirely clear whether or not a new election could insight a renewed effort on the subject of copyright reform even though the discussions of the Pirate Party of Canada has some renewed enthusiasm, but an election does offer opportunity for voices to be heard on both sides of the table. The NDP have been most critical about the two copyright reform bills through Charlie Angus.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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