Report Ignored Independant Research – Digital Economy Report Fiasco Widens

The now infamous Digital Economy report by the Conference Board of Canada is currently starting to make it’s way through into headlines on some mainstream news sourced. While many Canadians are just learning of this new fiasco on the copyright debate, new evidence has emerged that the report ignored evidence that contradicted the Board’s conclusion.

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

The Conference Board of Canada’s reputation has become the latest casualty in the copyright debate in Canada. Yesterday, we reported on the fiasco that the Conference Board of Canada’s Digital Economy report plagiarized another report which was published by US copyright lobby groups. Michael Geist, who blew the lid off of this commented on how most educational institutes would not allow this kind of plagiarism to take place in an academic environment.

Now, professor Geist spotted a posting by copyright law researcher Jeremy DeBeer which seems to show that, according to Geist, the paper by DeBeer’s conclusion is different from the Digital Economy report.

“Initially the media focused on the Conference Board’s conclusions,” DeBeer commented, “but today’s headlines address more serious allegations about the reports’ objectivity and even possible plagiarism.”

Debeer continued, “I’m especially interested in these stories because last year I was commissioned to provide a research report for the Conference Board on these same issues of IP and innovation in the digital economy. The Board and I made the standard agreement that I’d be permitted to use the work I created in my subsequent academic and professional activities, but not until 12 months after my project was finished. It is a pretty weird coincidence that the 12-month window ended today, May 26, 2009.

So, in that context, I’ve released my research report as a working paper in the Social Science Research Network’s online repository of scholarly works. I haven’t yet had a chance to read the Conference Board’s reports as closely as I plan to over the coming days, but I’ll be curious to see how the reports align with my own research on the links between IP and innovation, and with my independent policy recommendations.”

Additionally, DeBeer offered his conclusion in his paper:

IPRs can facilitate innovation if an appropriate balance is struck between sufficient protection and free competition. Canada’s laws governing IPRs are recognized to be very good, but could be improved. With respect to copyright in the digital environment, three priority issues to deal with are implementing treaty provisions regarding TPMs, clarifying intermediaries’ liabilities and obligations and enabling greater use of flexibilities and limitations.

Canada should follow the example set by Israel and adopt a ‘wait-and-see’ approach toward TPMs, in order to avoid entrenching a potentially inappropriate regulatory regime for technologies with an uncertain economic and cultural future, or a middle-ground model with circumvention prohibitions tied to infringement should be adopted. Intermediaries should be required to assist in online copyright enforcement under a ‘notice-and-notice’ system that requires them to inform customers of alleged infringements, and policy-makers should closely follow and participate in discussions about self-regulation. Canada’s statutory system for fair dealing should be amended to take account of technological, cultural and commercial realities and to create new opportunities for economic growth and innovation, while stakeholders simultaneously work together to design best practices online.

DeBeer has released his working paper in full for others to review.

If there was a particular conclusion that the Conference Board of Canada was trying to produce – namely a conclusion that would support foreign interests claims that Canada needs to restrict copyright laws, the Board wouldn’t be the first entity to do so.

In 2006, a report by Connectus Consulting entitled “The Economic Impact of Canadian Copyright Industries – Sectoral Analysis” made a number of comments regarding the Digital Economy. The report was also picked up by Dr. Geist as well who had the following highlight:

The sound recording case study is particularly compelling since the data contradicts both the industry claims and the expectations of the report’ s authors. It begins by stating that “there is little doubt that the Canadian sound recording sector has undergone significant change in the past several years, primarily as a result of illegal music downloading (or peer to peer file sharing) and the consequent impact on the sale of recorded music.”

Incredibly, the report’s authors marshal no economic evidence to support this unequivocal assertion nor do they offer any legal analysis to back up the claim that peer-to-peer downloading is illegal in Canada. In fact, the study undermines its own credibility by ignoring evidence that the changes in retail distribution channels, the decline of radio, and competition from other consumer entertainment products such as DVDs and video games are primarily to blame for dropping sales.

Regardless of the reason, the report’s authors were clearly surprised when the economic data contradicted their stated thesis. Warning that “these findings should be treated with caution”, the study reports that the Canadian sound recording industry grew steadily from 1999 to 2004, with the GDP contribution jumping from $243 million to $387 million.

Obviously, the Conference Board of Canada didn’t learn from the Connectus Consulting incident and ultimately sold their credibility to the US copyright lobby by issueing the Digital Economy Report which ignored any contradicting conclusions or research done by third parties. Now Canadians from across the country are learning about this fiasco today. The question remains, will other entities learn from this second incident or will history, once again, repeat itself and another Canadian entity will have their reputation stained by issuing a report that repeats unsubstantiated claims by the foreign copyright industry?

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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