Canadian Political Parties Clarify Their Positions on Copyright

It’ll be May 2nd when Canadians head to the polls, and the positions on copyright can be rather muddied at times. That makes the CCA posting on political parties so interesting. Canadian political parties were asked a series of questions related to the arts and some of this ground covers copyright.

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

Recently, ZeroPaid’s own Jared Moya noted that ACTRA was asking Canadians to vote for candidates who would support a three strikes law. The question being raised here is which party best suits your position if you are Canadian. We’ve already reviewed the platforms of the Bloc, Liberal, Green and Pirate party platforms.

Well, if reading the platforms weren’t enough for you, the Canadian Conference of the Arts (CCA) sent a series of questions to the Bloc, Conservative, Green, Liberal and NDP parties with regards to the arts in Canada. There responses might prove quite interesting for some voters to say the least. As it seems to be par for the course, the Conservative party did not answer any questions, so that leaves the Liberal, NDP, Bloc and Green parties. We’ve read through the comments and have put together some notes.

The parties were asked, “How do you intend to protect culture in international trade negotiations?”

The Green party had an interesting response, saying:

Bad trade deals are bad for Canadians. A Green Government will renegotiate NAFTA and FTAA, as well as other agreements currently under negotiation (e.g. Canadian-EU Trade Agreement (CETA)). Any Chapter 11-type Investor-State provision that allow foreign companies to sue our government and its agencies (e.g. CRTC) will be removed.

Copyright was then asked. The question specifically was “Precisely when does your party intend to present amendments to modernize the Copyright Act?”

The Bloc responded with the following:

If Bill C-32 is presented before Parliament again in its current form, the Bloc will try to better balance the bill by proposing amendments during the committee’s study.

While this response specifically seems rather vague, judging by our platform review, chances are, they mean that they are going to restrict copyright more to the liking of foreign multinational companies (re: DMCA-style copyright law)

The Liberals response was particularly eye-opening:

Recent studies have shown that Canada’s out-of-date Copyright act translates into major economic loss (up to 965 million dollars lost last year due to piracy, according to an Ipsos/ Oxford economics study) for Canadian creators all across the country; the Liberal Party will thus start working on presenting a modernised copyright act as soon as we form government. Bill C-32, the latest Conservative attempt to modernise copyright, was unbalanced and unfair; a Liberal government will work with all stakeholders to ensure creators rights and their sources of revenues are protected under the Copyright act.

Digital technology offers many new opportunities, but enjoying content without compensating its creators shouldn’t be among them. A new Liberal government will introduce technology neutral copyright legislation that balances the needs of creators and consumers and reflects the principle that our artists and musicians should be paid for their work. We will stand with Canadian creators as they navigate both the opportunities and challenges of the new digital society.

During the debate on copyright legislation in the last Parliament, it was the Liberal Party that developed a practical solution to providing musicians with compensation through a new private copying compensation fund rather than a levy. A Liberal government will look to develop similarly innovative solutions to ensure that the Copyright Act protects creators’ existing and future rights and revenue streams in a digital age. Likewise, the Liberal party believes that any exception under fair dealings must be clearly defined with a clear and strict test for fair use so that creators are fairly compensated for their work.

Bottom line, it sounds like the Liberals are planning on also changing copyright laws so that they are more strict. While their track record (what we mentioned in our Liberal platform review) suggests that they want to increase exceptions, that seems to be the only highlight of their position as they sound like they are merely going along with what foreign corporations want copyright laws to be from the sounds of things.

The NDP simply had this to say:

If elected, Jack Layton and the New Democrat team are committed to introducing legislation to modernize Canada’s copyright regime within 12 months of taking office.

The parties were then asked, “What types of amendments do you intend to put forward? ”

The Bloc’s response:

Copyright law does not take into account the impact of new technologies, including the advent of the internet, and must be changed as quickly as possible. All work deserves proper compensation, so it is essential that artists and creators receive their dues, while also ensuring that consumers benefit from access to creative products.

Illegal downloading is detrimental to artists, who receive no fair compensation for their works, while internet service providers are able to benefit financially from their labour.

Introduced in June 2010 by the Conservatives, Bill C-32 fails to make ISPs responsible and is satisfied with attacking the consumers who pay ISPs for internet access.

This appears to be repeating what they said earlier in their platform about making ISPs liable for copyright infringement. It also seems to reaffirm that they are merely going to toe the viewpoint of foreign multi-national corporations.

The Green parties response was rather surprising:

The Green Party believes that Bill C-32 needs more work and that the educational exceptions in particular disrespect creators and threatens their livelihoods and businesses. The Green Party of Canada is committed to working with the CCA and all the relevant stakeholders to modernize our outdated copyright system.

I don’t understand exactly how the educational exceptions in Bill C-32 disrespected creators. It locked down art whenever there was a DRM present, thus restricting what educators could do with material for educational purposes. I personally find this response puzzling.

The NDP was more open to fair dealing:

We would begin by addressing issues including private copying, fair dealing, and the regime governing statutory damages, among others.

The next question was this: “Which elements of Bill C-32 will your party keep, and which elements of the bill will your party remove or change in a new bill to modernize the Copyright Act?”

The Bloc responded:

The Bloc Québécois will ensure that the new bill is fair to both creators and consumers. This balance must be achieved, most notably through: an upgraded system for private copying, applying to mp3 players and other digital music players; reasonable royalties to artists for redistribution of their works; the abolition of the education exemption and fair recognition of the resale rights of visual artists.

hey went on to re-iterate that they want to make ISPs liable for copyright infringement.

The Green Party had an interesting response:

The Green Party of Canada strongly supports artists’ rights to guaranteed fair compensation through fair patent and copyright laws. At the same time, we consider the digital lock provision in Bill C-32 to be excessively restrictive in that

it will not allow students and journalists to properly create and conduct research.

We will work with the CCA and other stakeholders to sharpen the definition of “educational uses” to find the right balance to give researchers this ability in a manner consistent with a thriving information commons, fair dealing principles, and moral rights.

This seems to be similar to the Liberals position on the DRM exceptions that they are far too strict and, essentially, choke off certain kinds of innovation legally speaking.

The NDP had a very specific response:

In reviewing Bill C-32, New Democrats would closely examine a number of key issues contained in the proposed legislation, including (but not limited to) ISP liability, Technological Protection Measures (TPMs, or so-called “digital locks”), statutory damages, private copying and reproduction for private purposes, broadcast mechanical licensing and fair dealing.

In order to arrive at an equilibrium between the interests of rights-holders and those of consumers, New Democrats would likely begin developing new copyright laws, beginning by consulting widely with stakeholder groups with the aim of creating a legislation that is — unlike C-32 — truly technology-neutral, balanced and flexible enough to ensure its adaptability to new platforms and technologies in the years to come. We would also determine definitively Canada’s obligations as a signatory to various international treaties governing copyright and intellectual property.

While they are glossing over a lot of subjects, they are, at least, recognizing that these issues do matter to them.

If you would like to see the full responses and questions in these and other topics, you can check out the CCA website.

So, if ACTRA is hoping to find a political party that explicitly says they’ll support a three strikes law, well, it’s clear that this policy isn’t exactly on the minds of the political parties judging by these responses. The closest mention of three strikes is the mention of CETA. That was the Green party and they explicitly said that such an agreement was a bad idea.

What is noticeable in these responses is how some parties (namely the Liberals and the Bloc) seem to be more warm to the idea of a more DMCA-style approach to copyright. The Bloc went further by saying that ISPs should be liable for copyright infringement. While I personally fully disagree with this policy because ISPs are used for way more than accessing music, they seem to have been very consistent on this position. The NDP appear to at least recognize the complexities of copyright the most with mentioning not just TPMs and fair dealing, but statutory damages and ISP liability as well.

Overall, these are very interesting comments given that sometimes, the party platforms were vague at times. Some of these responses really did clarify the party positions on these issues. I think that the NDP further clarified their positions the most while the Bloc merely reaffirmed their positions. The other parties were somewhere in between reaffirming their positions and clarifying the points they made in their platform.

Does these positions change your vote? Which party do you think had the position that reflects your stance on copyright the most? Are all of the issues that are of concern to you being addressed so far in this election?

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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