Shades of Sam Bulte? Heritage Minister Issues Report Based on Lobbyists

Fears are beginning to surface that the next copyright debate could be a repeat of debates more than a decade ago. That’s thanks to a recent report being published.

The copyright debate in Canada has a very long history when it comes to how technology impacts it. In fact, I’ve pretty much followed the Canadian copyright debate for almost as long as my whole news writing career which started clear back in 2005.

Throughout that time, I’ve covered numerous copyright bills. Many of them put forward the idea that Canada should mirror the US’s “sue-em-all” lawsuit campaign when it comes to file-sharing. Thanks to public outcry, many such bills have died on the order paper. Canadian’s rightfully said that litigating people is not the answer.

During the Paul Martin government, Sam Bulte was the Canadian Heritage Minister. She became quite notorious in her handling of the copyright file. By 2006, the Liberal Party of Canada was mired in political scandal many say was the result of Liberal corruption. Just prior to the election, Bulte held a political fundraiser which invited major corporate lobbyists at an expensive dinner. For critics, this wound up being little more than an extension of how Liberal’s simply focus on pleasing major corporate donors all the while ignoring what is in Canadian’s best interests.

In response, a Canadian copyright activist group held what became known as the “balanced meal” event. The event was scheduled to take place an hour before the major fundraising event just across the street. Some pointed out that this is clearly done to take up parking spaces in the area and inconvenience the major corporate donors in the process.

As the election drew ever nearer in 2006, a town hall was held in her riding. A pledge was circulating that said that, if elected, the representative in the riding would not accept donations in exchange for supporting a restrictive copyright law. A voter asked during the town hall if the candidates present would be willing to take the pledge. A number of them actually did take the pledge at the time.

However, few could have predicted that asking candidates to take a simple pledge would result in Bulte’s most notorious moment in the public eye. She responded that she is a supporter of artists and creators. Bulte then said that she would not allow the EFF, Michael Geist, and his “pro user zealots” to silence her voice. The video was since posted and Canadians across the country were stunned at the response. Someone even created “pro user zealot” bumper stickers at the time in protest of her response.

Ultimately, not only did the Liberal Party of Canada ultimately lost the election to the Conservative Party, but also Bulte wound up losing her seat in the process. While then Prime Minister Stephen Harper wound up not being much of an improvement on the copyright file shortly after, the loss of both the Liberal Party and Bulte’s seat, at least, seemed to be the end of a chapter in the copyright file.

Politicians since have gradually become wiser to what comes with copyright reform these days. It takes listening to a broad range of stakeholders to even begin the process and not just lobbyists barking orders from their American offices. Better times were bound to ensue.

… or so we thought.

Now a report is surfacing talking about the Minister of Canadian Heritage supposedly listening to a broad range of stakeholders. In turn, the minister effectively issued a report that Canadian law professor Michael Geist suggests is repeating the mistakes of 2004-2006:

Rather than providing the recommendations directly to the Industry committee as requested, the Heritage committee and chair Julie Dabrusin, a Liberal MP, chose instead to release its full report today. The report, which utterly failed to comply with the request to call on a broad range of stakeholders, is the most one-sided Canadian copyright report issued in the past 15 years, largely mirroring the approach of the discredited 2004 Bulte report that was subsequently rejected by the government.

Representing little more than stenography of lobbying positions from Canadian cultural groups, the report simply adopts as recommendations a wide range of contentious proposals: copyright term extension, restricted fair dealing, increased damages, as well as several new rights and payments. There is no attempt to engage with a broad range of stakeholders, much less grapple with contrary evidence or positions.

The issue of copyright term extension provides a good illustration of the committee’s one-sided approach. By any reasonable measure, the issue of extending the term of copyright from life of the author plus 50 years to life plus 70 years is controversial. Canada suspended the extension in the revamped TPP and resisted term extension for years given ample evidence that it does not lead to new creativity but would harm access. Yet the committee recommends term extension, admitting:

No witnesses expressed outright opposition to extending of the copyright term from 50 to 70 years after death.

Any report that failed to include any witnesses opposing term extension has not met with a broad range of stakeholders. In fact, the committee makes no mention of the word “balance”, only citing the term in quotes from two witnesses. The report will be trumpeted by some rights holders, but the supposed intended audience – the Industry committee conducting the copyright review – should reject it as unhelpful, one-sided, and inconsistent with its instructions.

What is somewhat spooky about this politically is that elements from the past are already being repeated here. In the mid 2000’s, there was what many call the “Ad Scam” scandal. Today, we are seeing the SNC Lavalin scandal as well as another ethics controversy surrounding alleged political interference in a case against admiral Mark Norman.

In the 2000’s, as Geist pointed out, a report was issued based on comments by corporate lobbyists. Today, we see a report being based on the comments of corporate lobbyists.

In the 2000’s, there was the unsettling rise of the Conservative party. Today, there is the unsettling rise of the Conservative party.

This is not to say history is for sure repeating itself, but the increasing number of similarities is growing increasingly creepy.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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