Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez travelled to Toronto last week, providing an opportunity for the newly-named minister to meet with cultural groups. With many of the biggest rights holder groups tweeting out the meet and greet (CMPA, Writers Guild, Access Copyright, ACTRA, ACP), the visit sent a signal that the new minister is readily available to hear creator community concerns. While Rodriguez should obviously take the time to meet with all stakeholders, an extensive review of lobbying records related to copyright since the 2015 election reveals that 80 per cent of registered copyright meetings for government officials, including policy makers, political staffers, Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries, have been with rights holder groups. The behind-the-scenes imbalance runs counter to oft-heard claims regarding the influence of companies such as Google and suggests a diminished voice for education, innovative companies, and users on copyright policy.
The cumulative data shows rights holder groups with over 200 registered meetings with the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), Canadian Heritage, and Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) regarding copyright since November 2015. By comparison, user groups have registered a total of 52 meetings over the same period.
The difference is particularly pronounced at Canadian Heritage, where rights holder meetings outnumber user meetings by more than five to one. Not only do rights holders constitute 80 per cent of the meetings with the two leading copyright departments and the PMO, but only rights holders have been granted cabinet-level meetings on copyright.
The review of lobbyist registration records, which I conducted together with University of Ottawa student Amira Zubairi, tracked registered meetings involving copyright for the period from November 2015 until August 2018. The lobbyist registration data set is not easy to work with as it features many obvious errors. These include instances of inaccurate references to officials within the relevant departments, outdated descriptions (some still reference Bill C-11 from 2012), and duplicate references (Access Copyright’s meetings often feature two registrations under different names, one for the organization and one for its registered external lobbyist).
This particular data analysis is limited to registered meetings involving the PMO, Canadian Heritage, and ISED. The records point to some other departmental or MP meetings (ie. Global Affairs, members of the Industry or Heritage committees), but those are excluded if there was no PMO, Canadian Heritage or ISED presence. Only those meetings (i) involving copyright (as described in the monthly communication report), (ii) a copyright-related organization (such as Access Copyright), or (iii) Minister, Parliamentary Secretary, or government official working in a copyright department (or known to work on the copyright file) were included. This meant excluding 15 meetings involving the Council of Chief Executives (who include copyright among the many issues that might be discussed in their filings), meetings with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (which fall under ISED but are unlikely to involve copyright reform), and treating duplicate registrations for the same organization at a single meeting (Access Copyright, Canadian Association of Research Libraries) as one meeting. For rights holders, the meetings primarily involved representatives from the music, movie, and publishing industries. For users, registered meetings involved education, libraries, telcos, and technology companies.
The content of the meetings are not public, but the registry descriptions provide a sense of rights holder priorities. For example, Music Canada is “seeking amendments to the Copyright Act to create new rights for copyright owners to protect their works in the internet environment, and to clarify responsibilities of internet service providers” and “to bring the Copyright Act in line with advances in technology and current international standards and provide fair and predictable rules for copyright in the digital environment.” The Writer’s Union discusses the “Copyright Act with respect to better defining fair dealing for education.”
None of these topics will surprise, but the lack of balance in meetings is a cause for concern. Indeed, former Canadian Heritage Minister Melanie Joly is listed as having met directly with groups such as Music Canada, the Motion Picture Association – Canada, ACTRA, SOCAN, Access Copyright, Copibec, and the Writer’s Union. She had no equivalent registered meetings with user groups.
The meeting breakdown by department:
The lack of balance is consistent with the one-sided approach taken by the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage with its review of copyright and remuneration models. To date, there has been no user representation, no innovative business, and few artists appearing on their own behalf. The Canadian Heritage portfolio includes libraries and museums among its stakeholders.
While not all meetings are subject to registration (for example, I met with department officials as part of a larger meeting on Copyright Board reform earlier this year), the registered meetings cover the most powerful and prominent lobby groups and companies focused on copyright. Given the huge discrepancy in the number of meetings, the appointment of a new minister at Canadian Heritage offers the chance to foster new confidence in the copyright reform process by ensuring that there is greater balance, both in the public hearings before committee and the behind-the-scenes lobbying that has been dominated for years in Canada by one side of the copyright debate.