Wikileaks Diplomatic Cable: US Pulled the Strings in Previous Canadian DMCA

Wikileaks diplomatic cables are still being published on a regular basis. One of the recent cables relates to Canadian DMCA, not the last one, but Bill C-61 from 2008.

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

There were a number of revelations in a recently published diplomatic cable. It revolved around the, at the time, Bill C-61. That particular bill was something we reviewed back in 2008. Among the things it would have done is legalize the Sony Rootkit, issue fines of $500 – $20,000 per infringement, and put forth copyright laws, including anti-circumvention, that is worse than the American DMCA law.

Unsurprisingly, at the time, the bill was labelled as the Canadian DMCA because it was so closely modelled after the failed American DMCA copyright laws (failure in that it didn’t curtail infringement as hoped and legally stamped out innovation like DVD copying technology among other things). There was no shortage of criticism against the law. It sparked letter writing campaigns and protests at key Conservative ridings. One of the most widely held belief, which was more or less confirmed by the now widely discredited Special 301 reports, was that US corporate interests were trumping Canadian interests on the issues surrounding copyright. Well, if there was any doubt of this before, the diplomatic cable leak should remove all doubt by now.

Bearing in mind, this is from the perspective of the US embassy. At the time, Conservative MP Jim Prentice was taking care of the copyright profile at the time. This is how the cable described the tense relationship Canadians had (and still have) with copyright reform:

From December 2007 to mid-February, senior GOC officials and well-informed private sector contacts assured the Embassy that legislative calendar concerns were delaying the copyright bill,s introduction into Parliament. Our contacts downplayed the small – but increasingly vocal – public opposition to copyright reform led by University of Ottawa law professor Dr. Michael Geist. On February 25, however, Industry Minister Prentice (please protect) admitted to the Ambassador that some Cabinet members and Conservative Members of Parliament – including MPs who won their ridings by slim margins – opposed tabling the copyright bill now because it might be used against them in the next federal election. Prentice said the copyright bill had become a “political” issue. He also indicated that elevating Canada to the Special 301 Priority Watch List would make the issue more difficult and would not be received well.

Presumably, “GOC” stands for “Government of Canada”. The elevation of Canada’s status in the Special 301 report since did way more damage than ruining the chances of passing such draconian copyright law. It was a key point that made many other countries sceptical of the validity of the Special 301 Report at the time. The lasting impact was that everyone now knows that the Special 301 Report can’t be trusted as a reliable source. What is the widely held belief of the Special 301 Report now is that it’s merely a talking point by the RIAA, MPAA, BSA and other foreign lobbying organizations. If the RIAA wants something in the Special 301 Report, for all we know, it’s as simple as calling up a key person on speed dial to have something changed. After that, the changes are implemented without question – even if it’s something that is completely invalidated by facts.

The cable went further:

An influential Liberal MP on intellectual property issues separately told EMIN on February 26 that the copyright bill would receive widespread support from the Conservative, Liberal, and Bloc Quebecois parties if and when the GOC sends it to Parliament.

This clearly shows that parties are admitting to colluding against Canadian interests in favour of American interests. With regards to copyright law, there was no difference between Liberal, Conservative and even French separatist party, the Bloc as they seemed to play sock-puppets to corporate America’s interests in terms of lawmaking.

Apparently, this “influential Liberal MP” trivialized the political significance of Canadian interests. From the cable:

The Liberal MP stated that he has pressed Industry Minister Prentice to release the legislation now, adding that Canada is out of step with the rest of the (developed) world on intellectual property rights and risks losing future foreign investment. The MP dismissed the political significance of the public efforts of Professor Geist and hinted that Canada,s possible elevation to the Priority Watch list would not be seen as a hostile U.S. action, but show that its IPR regime is weak vis-a-vis its G-7 partners.

This is not only showing that the Liberals were merely repeating RIAA propaganda as if it were fact (it’s not), but also showed that Liberals seemed to be under the mistaken impression that the efforts to put forth sane copyright laws is attributed to one person. It’s not. There are a number of organizations and advocates that work with putting forth sensible idea’s for copyright laws. Yes, Michael Geist is significant, but so is the work of many other Canadians such as Howard Knopf, Russell McOrmond, Online Rights Canada and the thousands of Canadians who are willing to sign petitions all these years demanding consumer rights be heard for a change. When Bill C-61 was around, consumer rights were an afterthought, if that. It was all about what organizations like the RIAA, MPAA, BSA and the like wanted. Consumers, Canadian artists, innovators and the like didn’t even matter at the time.

What I find particularly offencive about these remarks in the cable is the fact that they make it sound like only Michael Geist is reading these issues, dissecting the impacts and offering up public commentary. I’m not saying Michael Geist isn’t a significant figure in all of this, however, I think it’s an insult to Canadians intelligence to presume that it’s only Michael Geist that is thinking about these issues. I am a Canadian, I reviewed the legislation independently, I reach my own conclusions on these issues. I think that many other Canadians at the time did the same thing and freely thought about what these laws mean and decided to act accordingly.

What is also interesting was that the US even had the nerve to try and spend Canada’s money for them:

CBSA did not know whether the C$75 million announced in the recent budget over the next two years will be targeted toward improving IPR enforcement.

Obviously, this never actually came to be – probably in part later due to the economic collapse where corporations in Canada were demanding bailout money to stop them from having to pay for their business mistakes.

What came next in the cable may be one of the most controversial part:

Finally, George cautioned that if Canada were retained on the 301 Watch List – or even elevated to the Priority Watch List – it could affect future Canadian cooperation on IPR as well as give ammunition to Dr. Geist and his acolytes, who see a revised copyright bill as a “U.S. plot.” In answer to EMIN,s question, George claimed that only the United States is pressing Canada on copyright reform. The EU, individual European countries, and Japan do raise IPR issues, but George implied that these efforts are perfunctory.

Well, if this cable proved anything today, the copyright reform process at the time was in fact a “U.S. plot”. Canadian interests being left aside as some form of trivial opposition while Conservative sock puppets to American corporate interests pretty much created legislation to suit the needs of American corporations. Even the US resorted to name-calling by referring people who are concerned about copyright related issues as Michael Geist’s “acolytes”. It’s not as direct as Sam Bulte’s “Pro user zealots” remark, but the remark carries the same weight. Ultimately, what this shows is that the US corporations through the US embassy really has an anti-Canadian attitude. Really, it’s not hard to see these people making these remarks while Conservatives and Liberals sit there nodding their heads in agreement like bobble-heads on people’s dashboards.

The cable went on to mention 8 cases where RCMP made significant seizures of counterfeit good, but also made the following comments:

In the past, GOC officials have indicated that Canada should join the other G-7 countries in updating its border enforcement regime and that border officials should receive “ex officio” powers to seize suspected counterfeit and pirated goods. Current arrangements between customs officials and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) for seizing suspected illegal goods are cumbersome and relatively ineffective.

What exactly is the US asking for? An officer on every street corner looking for potential counterfeit goods? Quite frankly, I think there are more important things to be concerned about than some kid selling a mix CD to some other kid (i.e. murder, terrorism, gang activities, violence and even drug trafficking). Yes, I don’t like bootleggers, but seriously, wouldn’t you rather have police stopping someone wielding a machete on someone rather than stopping some knob illegally making an extra 5 bucks on a low quality cam movie? I don’t often find myself saying this, but give the RCMP a break here.

The cable went on to say the following:

Recommendation: No Copyright Bill Equals Special 301 Priority Watch List

I think this clearly shows the obvious short-sightedness of the US interests here. Even Conservative MPs knew that this would further destroy any chances for the US to get what they want. It’s not that the Canadian MPs were just dragging their feet on this issue, it’s that even a Conservative MP knew that this escalation was counter-productive in the eyes of the Canadian public. This is exactly what transpired in the end. Now, there’s a Canadian Pirate Party after all of this was said and done which only contributes to the pressure of keeping the foreign influence at bay on these policy issues. If the US interests simply swallowed their ego and not put Canada on the special 301 report priority watchlist, things would not have been so bleak for them to getting draconian copyright laws passed.

Perhaps the most hilarious part of the cable was saved for last:

We would strongly recommend retaining Canada on the Watch List if the government introduces its copyright bill into the House of Commons before the end of April. (Comment: Elevation of Canada to the Priority Watch List could adversely affect prospects for the introduction and passage of a copyright bill in Parliament. End comment)

In short, the US interest recommended that the US should satisfy whatever revenge or vendetta they have on Canada by putting the country on a now discredited watchlist in order to feel better even though such an idea is obviously a bad one since it’ll further screw over the chances of actually getting what the US wants in the first place. Yeah, great planning on the US part.

I think, ultimately, this is an indictment to three parties here. First, the Liberal party for simply being a carbon copy of the Conservatives on this file. Second, the Conservatives for simply pandering to the US against the wishes of Canadian. Third, the US diplomats behind the cable for showing such disdain toward Canadians. Quite frankly, if the diplomats in question don’t like Canadians so much, maybe it’s time to start looking for another career. To think that diplomats from the US would come to Canada, insult the residents like this and leave whenever they feel like it, is really not the kind of thing that would be looked up to in Canada. I personally wouldn’t be proud Canadian diplomats if they showed so much disrespect for the citizens of another country. In addition, if the Conservatives and Liberals are so similar on their stances of copyright laws (whatever the US demands), I think it’s a good thing we’ve had minority governments to stop such legislation all these years.

If I could say one thing to these US diplomats, it’s this: “If you don’t like Canadians, that is your business. If you want to insult us, say it to our faces. Don’t cowar behind state secrets and in shadowy offices secretly spewing it out to your buddies across the border. You know exactly the kind of person that makes you.”

This post was not influenced in any way by Michael Geist, but for those who are interested, you can read his comments here.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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