Canada to Strengthen Intellectual Property – Throne Speech

It may be one of the few speeches that drew many Canadians attention. While it is mainly of political interest, many issues in the throne speech were tackled.

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

Some speculated that the governing party wouldn’t even touch the issue of copyright, but those who thought this were clearly wrong. The throne speech said, “our Government will support Canadian researchers and innovators in developing new ideas and bringing them to the marketplace through Canada’s Science and Technology Strategy. Our Government will improve the protection of cultural and intellectual property rights in Canada, including copyright reform.”

The throne speech is said to be a blueprint of things to come in terms of legislation. As this throne speech shows, copyright reform is pretty much a promise at this point. However, this promise does pose an interesting question: will it follow through? Judging by the political climate, there’s a chance that history will, in essence, repeat itself. Only one of the three opposition parties has currently decided not to officially say which way they’ll vote on the throne speech. If this party chooses to vote the speech down, Canada will head into an election immediately after, thus forcing the potential copyright reform to die on the order paper before it is even tabled.

Copyright reform has been an interesting topic in Canada given that it has been promised many times, but attempts to reform the Copyright Act have gone without success. During the previous Canadian government, Sam Bulte tabled an act to amend the copyright act. This bill was infamously called ‘Bill C-60’. The bill died on the order paper and, as some suggest, helped Sam Bulte to ultimately lose her seat during the last election. Interestingly enough, it is likely that particular bill that has pushed copyright issues into the public conscious. Many organizations and advocates who follow copyright reform have used the now defunct bill as an example while forming arguments. Awareness has been increasing since then.

During the current government, Bev Oda last year hinted towards a copyright reform bill being tabled. Unfortunately, from the time she became elected all the way up to the day she was shuffled out of her duty as the Minister of Canadian Heritage, a reform bill never came to pass. If the throne speech passes, it is entirely possible that Josee Verner, the current Minister of Canadian Heritage, might be the one to table the bill.

While on the outside, little may appear to have changed, but on the inside of the copyright debate, more key people are expressing their thoughts on the issues. One of the major players is the Canadian Music Creators Coalition, the major Canadian record labels and musicians essentially, who broke away from CRIA (Canadian Recording Industry Association) and have since expressed opposition to CRIAs viewpoints. Of course, they are, by far, not alone.

Other voices have formed as well. Canadian artists have also formed together to oppose views expressed by organizations like CRIA and the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) They have formed the Appropriation Art Coalition. Students have also rallied against the views of stricter copyright laws in the past. The CFS (Canadian Federation of Students) proved that they were against restrictive copyright laws through their open letter last year. Other voices include librarians (Canadian Library Association’s open letter), Canadas privacy community and the Canadian Art Museum Directors Organization. If there is anything at all that this proves, it’s that few voices are actually in support of restricting the copyright laws.

While opposition to restrictive copyright reform is big in Canada, the current government chose to try and change the copyright laws anyway. While the governments words are relatively vague, many are not doubting what the government meant by this.

“With U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins looking on, the Conservative government unveiled its Speech from the Throne tonight. Wilkins and the copyright lobby undoubtedly liked what they heard.” Michael Geist wrote in his blog, “No words of balance, no words of access – simply more protection led by copyright legislation. This suggests – consistent with most speculation – that a DMCA-style bill could be coming to Canada within a matter of weeks.”

“As Michael Ignatieff of the Liberals suggested, this is like judging a meal only by looking at the menu, but the above is a menu item that will likely leave a bad taste in the mouths of most Canadian creators, consumers, software authors and hardware owners.” Russell McOrmond notes, “It is possible that something good can come out of this, but given the thinking of parliamentarians and committees who have believed that “if some Copyright is good, more is better”, I suspect the outcome will be bad. Protecting science and technology in the modern area is best done by limiting and clarifying the patent and copyright monopolies.”

One thing that is evident in all of this; based on Geist and McOrmond’s comments, it’s clear who is currently getting what they want. CRIA, late last month, posted a press release which says, “The organizations behind the Throne Speech call join a growing chorus of public and private sector voices demanding decisive government action on IP rights.” The press release further says, “In 2007 to the end of July, wholesale sales of CDs, music DVDs and other “physical” music formats fell 20 percent to $183 million, from $230 million a year earlier, according to CRIA figures, which represent the vast majority of music sales in Canada. This follows a 48 percent drop in retail sales of physical formats since the advent of widespread unauthorized file-swapping in 1999 and the proliferation of CD and music DVD counterfeiting in recent years (from $1.3 billion in 1999 to $679 million in 2006).”

Many point out that the drop in CRIAs record sales are sourced to the fact that the major Canadian record labels left CRIA in the first place. Many also point out that CRIA is on the receiving end of millions thanks to the private copying levy in Canada. This is only two of many arguments against CRIAs arguments. Whether CRIA gets everything they want remains to be seen, but so far, they seem to have managed to override their opposition.

Evidence that this is influenced by foreign companies isn’t hard to find, but the more recent piece of evidence came from the The Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America (SPP) two months earlier where North American leaders were issued an action plan on so-called “intellectual property”

Another thing that is clear is that the arguments mirroring CRIA have mysteriously rubbed off onto government opposition members during the current session of government as well. MP (Member of Parliament) Dan McTeague reportedly demanded to put in place an IP caucus that would advocate WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) In the mean time, Don Bell has already, at one point, introduced a bill that would put in place a secretariat that would “make recommendations” to the House of Commons. The proposed Secretariat was to advocate on behalf of the world-wide motion picture industry.

For those hoping that copyright laws wouldn’t not be restricted and think that the latest announcement would restrict copyright laws, the best case scenario is that the government falls – something that could happen within days should the opposing parties vote down the throne speech. Only time will tell what will happen next at this point.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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