Canadian Government’s Payment Questioned

An interesting new development follows up an earlier report which stated that Bev Oda, Canada’s Minister of Heritage, was accused of having a conflict of interest.

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

An earlier report that was also uncovered thanks to an Access to Information Act request revealed that the Minister of Heritage had used taxpayers money to dine with groups like the CRIA (Canadian Recording Industry Association). Similarily, a new report under the Access to Information Act request reveals something more.

The report, which was published in The Toronto Star, says that “another form of lobbying exists that requires closer scrutiny — lobbying that is financed by the government itself.”

Groups like Access Copyright, who have recently become associated with the creation of Captain Copyright, are said to be paid by the Canadian government to lobby the government for their interests. When Bill C-60, the last copyright reform bill that stirred major negative publicity, was tabled, Access Copyright was in total support of it. The support for the bill when it was still being debated was vocalised by John Degan who was associated with Access Copyright. John was heavily criticised by Russell McOrmond, a consultant for FLOSS (Free/Libre and Open Source Software.) While these debates and specific sides might not be so well known, the debate in general has gained a lot of publicity as more and more organizations have taken up different positions.

With many organizations and interest groups taking up different positions (but also seem to agree on privacy issues surrounding DRM – Digital Rights Management), one would have thought the debate has been evened out. That very concept may have been shaken over the recent report by Michael Geist. The report claims: “The Canadian Heritage-CRA agreement, which could run until 2008 at a total cost of nearly $400,000, requires the CRA to provide the Ministry with its views on copyright in the form of comments, analysis or research papers (other deliverables include a policy conference, website communications, and a regular newsletter). In other words, in return for $125,000 annually, the contract appears to be designed primarily to enable the CRA to lobby the government on copyright reform.”

It has raised questions on whether or not groups like SOCAN (Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada) even need the money. The article continues with the following:

“Internal correspondence also reveals that the contract was designed to further the department’s own policy objectives. A senior official outlined the rationale behind the proposed contract, stating in an email that once the CRA funding was complete, “we should have streamlined, stable funding to an organization whose structure, purpose and activities suit our own policy needs.”

Those activities were clearly identified in an email to Canadian Heritage from CRA’s co-chair who commented that “the job of taking on the educational sector on copyright reform is clearly a huge and major undertaking,” adding that education was a “well heeled, publicly funded lobby . . . devoted to abolishing creators’ rights on the Internet.””

In general, any kind debate where the government only hears one side of the argument could have very negative consequences. As the report suggests, it would seem that Canadian pro-copyright stakeholders still have a few aces up their sleeves.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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