Liberal Party Backtracks, Says Ratifying WIPO Marks Interest

If you want one of the most confusing messages you can find in the Canadian copyright debate, this may be it. After calling on the government to immediately reform copyright, ratify WIPO and pour resources into “combat[ing]” the “scourge” of piracy and after the news hit a number of major news sources including ZeroPaid, the Liberal Party through Marc Garneau called Michael Geist to say that these demands were to… er… serve as a marker to show interest on the subject.

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

At least, that’s what Marc Garneau told Michael Geist in a phone conversation. Here’s what this confusing message had to say:

Garneau advised that the committee offered all parties the opportunity to raise recommendations but only those with unanimous support were put forward as committee recommendations. Those that did not receive unanimous support could be raised by individual parties as the Liberals did with copyright.

Garneau admitted that the language used may have caused some concern, but that the recommendation was really designed as marker to indicate interest in addressing the copyright issue. He said that copyright was among the most lobbied issues he faces, with weekly meetings from a variety on stakeholders over the past eight months. Garneau cautioned against reading the recommendation as the official position of the Liberal party on copyright, noting that it would likely use Bill C-60, which adopted a more flexible approach on anti-circumvention legislation than C-61, as the starting point for analysis. He added that the Liberal party recognizes the importance of digital issues, as evidenced by their support for C-27 (anti-spam legislation), net neutrality, and copyright reform.

Looking back at their comments we reported on earlier, things don’t get much clearer. So what are these comments about anyway? For clearer answers, one must go clear back to 2005 and remember what happened after they tabled Bill C-60.

Back then, the minister responsible for copyright reform, the Minister of Canadian Heritage Sam Bulte, had already received numerous comments that were less than supportive of her Copyright reform bill. Sometime after the election was called in 2006, she went to a fundraiser that allowed lobbyists to give her 5 figure sums of money “per plate” and to discuss copyright laws. It wasn’t a surprise to some when it was revealed that a vast majority of those lobbyists came from the major entities of the copyright industry – naturally geared to restricting copyright laws. A protest emerged because of this dubbed as a “Balanced Meal” organized by Online Rights Canada. It was scheduled close by and scheduled to start an hour earlier. Observers amusingly suggested that they would effectively take up all the parking spaces at the ministers banquet.

Sometime after that incident was the all candidates meeting where a then famous video was shot that showed her making the pro-user zealots comment against Michael Geist, the EFF and their supporters. It was such a controversial comment to make that bumper stickers were made for those so-called “pro-user zealots”. Ultimately, she lost her bid for re-election as a result and many at that time figured that the copyright debate and her stance on the issues was what cost her her seat.

Fast forward a little to before Bill C-61 and you get Jim Prentice getting several questions regarding copyright in his riding. Bill C-61 wasn’t exactly much more popular afterwards either. After all the public backlash both parties received, it’s no wonder copyright reform has become such a hot potato nobody wants in a minority government situation.

That may be why the Liberal party is backtracking now. They know first-hand what it’s like to get burned when they don’t listen to constituents sensitive to digital rights and merely table whatever the copyright industry’s lobbyists demand. Adding to this is the suggestion that it’s probable that Canada will be facing an election sometime in the Fall as well. After Bill C-60 and Bill C-61, two things are pretty evident. 1 – both major parties want to table a DMCA-style copyright law to please the copyright industry. 2 – both parties don’t want to be seen in the media battling waves of protesters. The only solution? Wait it out until one party gets a majority so it’s possible to pull the copyright DMCA trigger. If there was sincerity that they are for user rights, there’d be a copyright reform bill tabled that protected users – no such luck aside from the anti-spam bill.

Looking positively on the subject though, one thing can be certain – copyright is not only an election issue, but a way to win votes now. Both parties appear to understand that now. Strangely enough, both parties are in the position for begging for forgiveness. Then again, isn’t the government adage, “It is better to beg for forgiveness than to ask permission”?

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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