Rumours Circulate – Canadian Copyright Reform Imminent

There are rumours circulating that a Canadian copyright reform bill is likely going to land sometime in the immediate future.

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

680 news is reporting that, while the bill was technically ready, the Minister of Industry and the Minister of Heritage were conflicted over the final wording of the bill. Slyck looks at the differences between what is happening with this copyright reform bill and the previous reform bill under the previous government.

The previous copyright reform bill (dubbed ‘Bill C-60‘) drew heavy criticism from various advocates for consumer rights. Some have labelled it as an ‘omnibus of bad ideas’. It quickly drew some negative attention. People such as Online Rights Canada and Russell McOrmond were running petitions for what they consider a more balanced approach to the issue. Certainly, many signed the petitions during Bill C-60’s time in existence.

Then came the day when the bill, along with a similar bill, died on the order paper as a result of the fall of the government (because it was a minority government and controversy abounded politically).

For some, a battle was won; but the war over copyright was far from over. The saga continued during the winter election. Sam Bulte, the minister who was in charge of copyright reform, built up more controversy over her fundraiser which was protested by Online Rights Canada. If that wasn’t enough, there was a push by advocates to take up a ‘Copyright Pledge’. That led to the firestorm over the infamous “pro-user zealot” comment. Whether or not the firestorm over the fundraiser or the comment made a difference, she ultimately lost her seat by the end of the election. One may note that it could have symbolically been an echo of the death of the copyright reform bill.

Just because the person in charge of the copyright reform bill as well as the bill itself faded away from the spotlight didn’t mean the issue died. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Public debate kept increasing on copyright reform.

One of the major stories was the controversy over the Pollara study. Basically, certain figures were disclosed publicly and perpetuated by CRIA (Canadian Recording Industry Association) that claimed that because of file-sharing, sales are down. Yet when the full study was revealed, it was discovered that a host of issues were going on that were of far greater impact to music than file-sharing. But the essential claim was that music sales were down. While the study was also the cause of refuting many of the industry’s claims, ironically enough, a later report suggested that music sales were, in fact, up. The new report may have altogether made the initial claims of the Pollara study completely false – or at least show an opposite figure.

Ironically enough, the next major move that supported critics over DRM (Digital Rights Management) came from the major record labels – namely the Sony BMG Rootkit case which is still ongoing in Canada. Like the United States version, the Canadian version of the story kicked off with lawsuits against Sony BMG. Sony attempted to get a lighter penalty, citing the US case, but ultimately didn’t get what they wanted.

While the Sony case dragged on for almost a year in Canada, there was plenty of damage being done. Many groups, coalitions, etc. ended up submitting their own views on DRM. While the original use of DRM was to prevent copying of content on a said medium, it was probably would not have been seen as a tool to gain information about consumers – a tool many consider spyware. Even supporters of DRM say that, although they want DRM to be protected under law, they don’t want a ‘Sony BMG style DRM’. Many organizations or other stakeholders in the copyright debate had already rejected DRM altogether, likely thanks to the debacle.

In the midst of the copyright debate, some wonder what artists have to say. After all, a large portion of the debates revolve around what they create in the first place. While CRIA have always been quick to say that file-sharing should be considered a criminal activity, other artists have come forward to disagree. This was evident when 6 major Canadian labels defected from CRIA and one label backed the new initiative called the Canadian Music Creators Coalition.

Of course, CRIA didn’t sit by and do nothing. Graham Henderson, president of CRIA, had come forward out to the public to voice his concerns on the issues. His fear was that without Canadian laws similar to that of the US, that creativity would crumble. The Hill Times reported that CRIA had secretly lobbied the government as well.

It wasn’t just CRIA getting in on the act of pushing for laws which many advocates disagree with. Another controversial initiative was Access Copyright’s Captain Copyright education campaign. The initiative drew heavy criticism for being one-sided (i.e. no information on fair dealings, public domain, etc). It was enough for the CLA (Canadian Library Association), so they took action against the initiative. After defending the initiative, Access Copyright backed down and took the cartoon character offline.

The excitement over reform was very significant – considering the new government had been pretty much dead silent on the issue. With many groups calling on Ottawa for ‘balanced copyright’, it was very hard to get a response or any hints as to which way the government was leaning. Many feared that, despite what happened, the government would favour a variation of CRIA’s stance anyway.

Those fears were inflamed when a political figure in an opposition party blew the whistle on a secret fundraiser organized by a lobbyist from CanWest. The fundraiser was quickly cancelled – unlike Sam Bulte’s fundraiser – but the damage to the image of Bev Oda was already done for many.

Another notable event was Telus, one of Canada’s largest ISPs (Internet Service Provider), advocating interoperability and a living “fair use”. Another major corporation involved was the CBC, voicing concerns over network neutrality.

Then most recently was the issue of the cabinet shuffle. Some speculated that there was a chance Bev Oda would be replaced by someone else to take over the copyright profile. It turned out that the cabinet shuffle did not affect their positions.

At the end of the day, there is a much bigger awareness over copyright issues compared to Bill C-60 back in 2005. Consequently, when copyright reform is tabled, more people are likely going to find out about what is going on. As such, if the proposed legislation does not serve as many sides as possible, there’s a very good chance that there will be more vocal opposition. If copyright reform is tabled very soon, it’ll certainly create a lot of buzz in the internet community as a whole.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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