US Senators Pressure Canada on Camcording Laws

With rumblings of elections, thanks to a budget bill, copyright reform that was promised in the Fall but never delivered, and increasing pressure from both sides of the debate, Canada seems to have fallen into a position that suggests a state of uncertainty.

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

Some speculate that pressure from both sides of the table has delayed the copyright reform bill to this very day. Now a letter issued by US senators Dianne Feinstein and John Cornyn to Prime Minister Stephen Harper has drawn more attention on the issues of copyright in Canada. This was coupled with a demand from David Wilkins.

The letter says, “We are writing to call your attention to the explosive growth of pirating of movies from theatres through the use of hand-recorders known as “camcorders.” The theft and sale of newly-released movies has always been a serious threat to the motion picture industry. Now, the advancements of digital technology and improved camcorder capabilities have compounded the problem.”

The letter cites new laws that prevent camcording in US theatres, but interestingly enough, it doesn’t cite any particular law, and only says that preventing camcording “protects artists.”

The letter goes on to say, “Unfortunately, since the United States has enacted tougher laws and penalties against piracy, including camcording piracy, it seems that much of this illicit business has simply moved north. According to a report issued by the U.S. Congressional International Anti-Piracy Caucus, piracy in Canada has grown since the U.S. enacted its law in 2005. In fact, Canadian-sourced camcordings rose by 24 percent in 2006 from 2005.”

The opinion expressed appears to have close resemblance to a controversial article published in the Globe and Mail that many people consider ‘movie industry PR’. The study by Fox stated that 50% of all camcording is from Canada. The article continued, “We are told that Canadian camcordings tend to be much higher quality; and therefore, they are in greater demand and responsible for a significantly higher percentage of pirated works around the world. Films illegally recorded in Canada have been found in no fewer than 45 countries. Twentieth Century Fox has reported that, at one point during 2006, Canadian theatres were the source for nearly 50 percent of illegal camcorded recordings across the globe. However, it is still not a criminal offense in Canada to make an unauthorized recording of a film in a movie theatre. That means there is no law against what is essentially the theft of property.”

The letter concludes with a study and a warning:

“A worldwide study commissioned by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) concluded that in 2005 movie piracy cost the Canadian film industry and your government $225 million and $34 million, respectively, in lost revenues.

If Canada does not criminalize illicit camcording, we are afraid that illegal pirating will continue to mushroom in your country. While a new law will not stop the worldwide-problem of film camcording, it will certainly help end this most egregious form of copyright piracy. It is bad enough when artists must compete with pirates to sell their products; it is far worse when pirates steal artists’ creations and then sell them before the artist has even had the chance to recover their costs.

Thank you for your consideration of this matter of utmost importance. If we can be of any assistance to you or your cabinet ministers, please do not hesitate to contact us.”

The efforts were doubled up by the US ambassador David Wilkins, who reportedly said, “There’s a lot of pirating that goes on, a lot of counterfeiting of movies and songs” and “it really does cost the Canadian economy a huge amount every year, estimated to be from some 10 to 30 billion (dollars) per year.”

While there’s a continuing theme of how Camcording in theatres in Canada is not yet illegal, last month the Conservative government already commented in the National Post that camcording in Canada is already illegal. According to the Justice Minister, camcording can carry a fine of up to 1 million dollars and 5 years in prison for commercial distribution. Hollywood is claiming that there is a major loophole for camcorders though. They say that they have to prove that a film is being recorded for such distribution first – something they don’t appear to like.

Michael Geist commented yesterday in his weekly Law Bytes Column that “These reports invariably present a distorted picture […] movie camcording in Canada impacts roughly 3 per cent of Hollywood films (not 50 per cent as initially alleged) and Canadian copyright law is consistent with international treaty obligations.”

Still, Michael Geist did comment that CRIA (Canadian Recording Industry Association) has been able to have “Unparalleled access” in comparison to the Canadian artist group, CMCC. Ever since major Canadian record labels left CRIA saying that CRIA doesn’t represent their interest (but rather American corporate interests), many have decided that CRIA is little more than a lobbying arm for RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America.)

So what does history say when it comes to American copyright intervention in other countries? A high profile case involving Sweden may offer some insight. Last year, American political powers pressured Sweden into taking BitTorrent site offline. The incident sparked large scale protests throughout major cities in Sweden. While many reacted more to the fact that the US pressured Sweden into doing what they wanted, it nevertheless magnified awareness for the copyright debate, if nothing else. Even major political parties revised their copyright platforms for the next election and exponentially increased the membership for The Pirate Party in Sweden.

Whether or not Canada would follow suit in a similar situation is questionable, but in matters related to copyright, American intervention isn’t exactly popular with other countries.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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