Canadian Ministers Responses to DRM and Copyright Issues

It was predicted that a Copyright reform bill in Canada would occur sometime during the current session of the Canadian parliament. Michael Geist certainly predicted this when he ended his 30 Days of DRM the day this session started up.

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

For some time, many people were trying to find some hint in to what Bev Oda – the Minister of Heritage who also is a key player in Copyright reform – might be planning for this next copyright reform bill. Look hard enough and it can be noted that she did make subtle responses to questions on things like TPM (Technical Protection Management) and copyright reform. Recently, she made another response.

The first known response was back in April. In that response, she was quoted, “The copyright legislation that was introduced by the previous government, once it was tabled, it did die on the order paper, but once it was tabled created a lot of dissension. There were different views on many elements of that bill. Consequently we are working and we will be introducing a new copyright bill that will expedite meeting our international obligations but also making sure that we have a copyright regime and a copyright framework that’s appropriate.”

One thing was certain by that response, they recognized the controversy in the last copyright reform bill. In essence, she also mentions speeding up to meet international obligations. What she meant by that isn’t so clear. Did she mean that she would ratify the WIPO treaties? Did she mean something else entirely? Is she noting CRIA’s (Canadian Recording Industry Association) problems that boiled over not a week later and listening to different sources? Is she merely listening to CRIA? Is she listening to a voice somewhere in between? These questions seem to have no real answers.

Two months later, a report depicted the Minister of Heritage meeting with groups like CRIA privately. The “secret meeting” drew some worry from advocates. The meeting took place two months before the transcript was unearthed by Howard Knopf.

Two months after the report on the “secret meeting”, Appropriation Art too received a response. In it, Bev says, “Government officials will continue to monitor developments around the world as they plan the next steps that Canada will take on this matter. The Government wants to ensure that the rights of Canadian creators are adequately protected by law, and that these rights are balanced with the ability of the public to access and make use of these works.” Appropriation Art was frustrated by the response and said that “the Minister’s response is unacceptable.”

It is also noteworthy that at the end of July, Maxime Bernier, the Minister of Industry, also made a response which seems to have some similarities to Bev Oda’s letter: “Please be assured that I am working closely with my colleague, Minister Oda, to ensure that the Act reflects current technological and legal realities, and is supportive of innovation and research. I am also mindful of the fact that the Act must ensure a balance between adequate protection for copyright holders and reasonable access to copyrighted material.”

Fast forward three months to today. The minister made a response on the issue of TPM’s that found its way on to Digital Copyright Canada. “The letter from the Minister of Heritage did not address my question. The issue of technical protection measures is not really an issue of copyright at all, but an issue of property rights of owners of technology.” Writes Russell, “The letter my MP received also has the date of July 7, 2006. If you also received a mildly modified version of this letter, I would be interested to know.”

Slyck caught up with Russell for his take on the issue. “It isn’t puzzled. It is very worried. I am not hearing anything from the new minister on issues related to copyright since she was elected. This letter was not a reply, but a mildly modified form letter that her staff would have put together. It had just enough uniqueness to make it appear that someone read the letter it replied to, but not much more.” Explained Russell, “The new Industry minister is both silent and unknown, and Bev Oda is now silent, leaving us to guess that the Conservative direction could be similar to what Heritage committee had come up with in the past.”

Russell isn’t the only one worried. Michael Geist, who built a reputation of obtaining a lot of valuable information in the past also showed concern.

As for who is being heard more – consumers and industry based on newer models as opposed to businesses using more traditional models – Russell expressed some doubt that consumers are winning the ear of the ministers, ” Mr. Rajotte’s recent letter is far more interesting than Ms. Oda’s letter. It clearly was personal, and had the formal “Mr. McOrmond” scratched out and “Russell” written in by hand, with an additional personal “Hope you are well. James” added in at the end.


He is the current chair of Industry committee. When he speaks of me commenting and appearing to testify, is he suggesting it will be a special legislative committee to deal with this specific bill? I don’t
think he would be suggesting that Heritage committee would allow anyone other than their traditional stakeholders to testify, given this has historically not happened.”

Russell also said, “Any new copyright bill *must* be debated outside of Heritage committee, given the divisions on this issue are more across committee lines than party lines. This is with the exception of the NDP which *currently* has a forward-facing Heritage critic in Charlie Angus, very different than their past critic that towed the “Heritage” party line.”

These responses were nothing what many advocates were hoping for. Not only does it seem to not answer many questions being raised, but it also seems to raise new questions as well. Exactly what will copyright reform look like, that’ll be something that remains to be seen. That day, some speculate, may be approaching very soon.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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