Canadian Copyright Reform Bill Headed for Debate

After several years of lobbying, user outrage, consumer group advocacy and debate from all sides of the spectrum, the latest iteration of the Canadian copyright reform bill is now headed for debate in government.

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

A Brief History Of Copyright Reform in Canada

It has proven to be an extremely touchy issue. Copyright reform in Canada. It has even generated protests from at least as far back as 2005 in its previous iterations. One of it’s earliest iterations – and the first iteration that I’ve familiarized myself with personally – was Bill C-60 dating all the way back to 2005 when the Canadian Liberal party was still in power. Critics from many sides slammed the legislation as the Canadian DMCA, emulating the worst part of US copyright law while leaving less for consumers because fair dealing isn’t as robust as the US Fair Use provisions. After the government fell, things got testy in the copyright debate during the election. Infamously, Sam Bulte, the then Canadian heritage minister, was asked about copyright reform, adding in user rights and taking a copyright pledge written by Michael Geist. In response, she said that she would not cave in to Michael Geist, the EFF (electronic Frontier Foundation) and their “pro-user zealots” – a line that inspired bumper stickers that said “proud pro-user zealot”. At one point, there was a protest that involved packing a parking lot that was also being used for an expensive dinner between the minister and corporate lobbyists. The protesters decided to have their own meal at a nearby restaurant inviting Canadians for a balanced meal instead.

While this may seem like ancient history, the battle lines were arguably set from that point on in the minds of many Canadians ever since. On the one side, you had major multi-national corporations represented by their Canadian arms (i.e. CRIA and the CMPDA) trying to restrict copyright laws while artists, software developers, educators, consumers, internet users, journalists, archivists, Canadian record labels, and… well… Canadians really, were on the other side trying to ask for exceptions and loosened copyright laws to better respond to the reality of technology of today. Canadians quickly grew accustomed to what role the Canadian government typically played – the shady government doing backroom wheeling and dealing with CRIA lobbyists, deliberately trying to shut out debate, stonewalling the public and just trying to pass a copyright reform bill that would, as one person put it, “make the Americans happy”. Canadians were not happy about this arrangement in the slightest and protested vigorously about digital rights – rocketing copyright reform from some dusty boring corner of government policy to a spotlight scrutinized by many Canadians. The results ended up forcing many Heritage ministers to wind up as casualties in the process. There was Sam Bulte, Bev Oda, and Jim Prentice to name three that had their reputation, at the very least, take a major hit in the process of handling the copyright file. Canadians did go through their fair share of ministers on the copyright file.

We’ve had many iterations of copyright law like Bill C-61, Bill C-32 and, now, Bill C-11. Most of the earlier iterations were commonly considered the Canadian DMCA. Both the Liberal government and Conservative government proposed copyright reform that were pretty much carbon copies of what foreign stakeholders wanted and left Canadians in the dark. The fact that both Conservatives and Liberals proposed legislation so similar to each other caused Michael Geist to call the legislation “a betrayal”.

Still, there was one powerful bargaining chip that Canadians had that seemed completely unrelated to copyright reform – the fact that a whole series of governments were minorities. Each time the government fell, the copyright reform legislation died on the order paper, causing the whole process to revert back to the very beginning again. Sure, the reasons for the government falling were typically unrelated to copyright reform, but it did buy precious time to debate copyright.

Eventually, there was a major consultation where stakeholders, at least online, could have their say on the matters of copyright. In spite of accusations of stacking the deck at a town hall where those that wanted to restrict copyright laws were seemingly the only ones invited, the consultation was seen as an overwhelming success based on the amount of interest it gathered.

In more recent times, the Conservative party won a majority government. For me, the day they won that majority was the day I thought the copyright debate was finished and Canadians would get the absolute worst of copyright reform laws at some point. About six years of cynicism was proven partially wrong with the current iteration of copyright law that seems likely to pass.

(yes, that seemed long, but this is compressing about 7 years worth of very eventful activity on the Canadian copyright file into what you see above)

Bill C-11 – The Current Incarnation of Copyright Reform in Canada

To be certain, this current copyright reform bill is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. The biggest flaw is still the anti-circumvention provisions which overrides all the fair dealing provisions afforded to Canadians. These types of laws are considered to be a major obstacle for innovators afraid to design anything that could theoretically be used to circumvent a DRM as their software would then be considered illegal.

One of the highlights, however, is the fact that notice-and-notice managed to hang in there as a way of dealing with alleged copyright infringement happening online. It also added a YouTube remix provision that allowed people to sample and “remix” content for non-commercial purposes. Since Bill C-11 is practically identical to Bill C-32, you can get a very good idea of what is in this legislation by checkout out our multi-part series on what was actually in Bill C-32.

Considering what has been happening all around the world with respect to massive fines for infringement in the US (re: Jammy Thomas and Joel Tenenbaum), HADOPI in France that ushered in a draconian three strikes law (which has been proving extremely problematic to actually properly run and to even try to disconnect someone in the first place), SOPA in the US (which would force ISPs to block websites for allegedly copyright infringing websites), Canadians actually managed to avoid a large list of some extremely nasty stuff for now. The Canadian government was pressured to implement a three strikes law and the government was pressured to implement a notice-and-takedown regime that would open the floodgates for mass litigation of alleged file-sharers as seen in the US, but a lot of the really nasty stuff never made it to the current iteration of the legislation. I would go so far as to say that, comparatively speaking, the copyright reform bill is actually quite good overall even though there are major flaws in it; and I say that it’s actually an indictment to what is going on elsewhere more than anything else. I don’t say I totally agree with the legislation necessarily as I personally object to the DRM provisions as well, but it’s starting to look like the best deal Canadians could practically hope for at this stage.

Bill C-11 – The Status

The bill is reportedly . You can read some comments on Michael Geist’s blog which also discusses the current iteration of the bill. You can also read comments about the amendment process from Russell McOrmond as well.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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