Is the IFPI Obstructing Free Trade to Pressure Canada into Copyright Reform?

How far are the copyright lobbyists willing to go to bully Canada into copyright reform? It appears as though the copyright industry is now attempting to obstruct a free trade agreement between Canada and the European Union just for the purpose of getting their copyright laws into Canada. We examine in-depth why saying that Canada should “update” copyright laws before entering a free trade agreement is hopelessly ironic.

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

Michael Geist has highlighted a very interesting thing that the IFPI has done. Canada has recently been in talks with the European Union to form a free trade agreement. In the midst of all of this, an IFPI spokesperson went on the record to say this (hat tip Michael Geist for the excerpt):

Canada has one of the world’s highest levels of internet piracy and one of the weakest IP enforcement systems. The country suffers from serious legislative deficiencies and a lack of engagement by its enforcement authorities.

It was also suggested that Canada should reform copyright laws before entering into a free trade agreement with the European Union. Now, aside from the fact that it would be absurd to just jump on to copyright reform just because the copyright industry said Canada should, there’s a few points that should be made.

First off, the note by the IFPI is clearly taken from a USTR Special 301 report which is almost practically controlled by the copyright industry itself. While the USTR Special 301 report claims that Canada has the worst piracy problems in the world, any actual hard evidence, even the copyright industry’s, let alone any third party evidence shows that this has been proven to be patently untrue. Canada’s digital market growth continues to be a front-runner in the world and Canada’s piracy rate doesn’t even show up as even a blip on the world stage.

Secondly, putting Canada on the Special 301 priority watch list has showed many signs that the move will ultimately backfire. One commentator has already highlighted the fact that this will only serve to alienate and anger Canadians, not shame them into reforming copyright laws. Not only that, but from around the world, the placement of Canada on the priority watch list is being viewed as just another reason to dismiss the Special 301 report for being… well, practically untrue. Take this analysts thoughts for instance (Via Geist):

It could be in the seemingly absurd decision to place Canada in the top rank of worst offenders with China, Russia and Thailand. Canada has stolidly refused to ape the US government in enacting a punishing law protecting the movie and music distributors. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act is a blatantly anti-consumer law which has little to do with IP protection, and everything to do with stifling digital copying of material owned by huge and profitable companies which help to finance US political campaigns.

Thus Washington seems to be using its annual IP report to hammer nations to enact and enforce US IP laws, or suffer the consequences. This appears to be nothing but ham-handed protection of big businesses at the expense of free trade. The US Trade Representative must accept that there are many ways to protect IP rights, and cease its threats against those who take different courses.

Lastly, it’s next to impossible to take these claims of Canada as a piracy haven seriously when there are so many conflicting allegations going around. Back in May of last year, the French government has been lobbied by the copyright industry to enact the three strikes law. The French government, in turn, went as far as to say that Canada is already thinking about enacting a Three strikes law (which was completely untrue). Toward the end of last year, the Motion Picture Association of America said this in a lobby paper to the then newly elected president:

One of the MPAA’s top priorities is attacking Internet piracy, through vigorous investigation and enforcement worldwide, as well as working with governments to ensure that their laws provide adequate remedies to stop internet piracy and are in full compliance with the WIPO Treaties. Achieving inter-industry cooperation in the fight against online piracy, including through automated detection and removal of infringing content is imperative to curb theft of online content, and is a priority for MPAA and its member companies. MPAA views recent efforts by the Governments of France and the United Kingdom to protect content on-line and facilitate inter-industry cooperation as useful models.

The last sentence, of course, references heavily the French three strikes law. While France has lobbied the European Union heavily over getting an EU-wide three strikes law, the European Union ultimately rejected these efforts and adopted amendments to the telecoms package to say that internet access is a right. So really, if Canada wanted to adopt a law that was more in line with the European Union, perhaps it would be essential for Canada to recognize the same thing. Conveniently, though, it’s not likely that the copyright industry will mention that.

Ultimately, how believable can the IFPI be in this case when they pretty much use a widely discredited report to pressure Canada into copyright reform in ways that they probably it to be reformed to before Canada enters into a free trade deal with a union that has made moves to enact laws that involve something that the copyright industry no doubt despises?

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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