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Canadian Heritage Copyright Policy Rocked By Conflict of Interest Concerns

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Monday September 24, 2007

The Hill Times is reporting that Patricia Neri, the Director General of Copyright Policy at Canadian Heritage has been removed from her position to become a special advisor to Assistant Deputy Minister Jean-Pierre Blais with "duties still to be determined." While people move all the time in government, this development is noteworthy - not just because it comes mere weeks before a copyright bill may be unveiled, but because there are mounting rumours that the move comes as a direct result of a conflict of interest concerns.

Personnel at the Copyright Policy branch were advised by email late last week that the move was for "personal reasons," though Neri apparently stopped coming into work soon after Labour Day. According to multiple sources, the personal reason involves a personal relationship with one of Canada’s leading copyright lobbyists. 

While Neri’s personal life is no one’s business but her own, this does raise troubling questions about the quick passage of Bill C-59, the anti-camcording legislation, since Neri appeared as a witness before a Senate hearing on the bill with the lobbyist in the room.  The Privy Council Office places particular responsibility on public servants that appear before a Parliamentary committee since they do so on behalf of the Minister.

Further, when was this known to senior officials at Canadian Heritage?  If weeks ago, why does it appear that no one took action, particularly since this came at a time when Neri was briefing Josée Verner, the new Minister of Canadian Heritage, and the Prime Minister’s Office on copyright matters? 

This is not an easy issue to raise, but if these reports are true, it surely creates at least a perceived conflict of interest contrary to Government Ethics Guidelines on a file that is very controversial and likely to grab the spotlight this fall.  The Hill Times notes that Canadian Heritage has been slow to comment on the situation other than to confirm the move.  Although it is important to protect the privacy of those affected, public confidence in the copyright process will be undermined if there is not a frank and full disclosure about who knew what and when.

Update: This story is beginning to generate some interest with coverage from VNUNet, The Inquirer, Contact Music, and, unsurprisingly, Frank Magazine

Comments (28)add comment

a guest said:

And the Lobbyist Is...
The good professor neglects to mention the name of the copyright lobbyist in question. The talk is that it is Douglas Frith, head of the movie industry in Canada.
September 24, 2007

a guest said:

...
And Doug Frith is the brother of...Royce Frith, the former Liberal MP, cabinet minister and high commissioner to London...what a happy family
September 24, 2007

david M said:

Lights, camera, copyright Act!

Sadly, nothing is surprising relating to copyright process in this country and with the numbers of registered lobbyists in this domain we can certainly spell scandal by now with the lavish lunches, limousine rides, tickets to Canadian Idol, jaunts down to D.C... why not add a bit of sex to the mix?

Perhaps there's a script here for a new movie release, working title "Copyright 69"..?!
September 24, 2007

a guest said:

...
The late former Senator Royce Frith (November 12, 1923 - March 17, 2005) was a Canadian lawyer, diplomat, and politician [ link ] and is said by someone who knew him very well to be almost certainly not related to Douglas Frith. There are 240 listings for FrithӔ on www.Canada411.com
September 24, 2007

Larry Modello said:

But...
Will this actually change anything for the better? Or, are laws passed on the books going to stay anyway?
September 24, 2007

Ken Poole said:

curmudgeon
Unfortunately, the law will stand until some challenge is made though the courts or until someone in the house moves to change or repeal it.

There are no automatic takes backs in law.

It will depend on what it costs whom to change or repeal it.
September 24, 2007

a guest said:

...
You are aware that your blog is broken? It doesn't display correctly in Firefox at a minimum. I would suggest you spend a little effort and obtain a W3C certified web publishing or blogging package, and have the site validated.
September 25, 2007

david said:

...
I am reading the blog using firefox and it is displaying fine.
September 25, 2007

Jason said:

...
I think the display issue may simply be that it only displays nicely when viewed at 1280x1024 or higher resolution.
September 25, 2007

voline said:

...
This page does not display correctly using Camino v1.5.1 (text in center column overlaps that in the right margin). However it does display properly in Safari 2.0.4.
September 25, 2007

weston said:

have had friends in film
With larger than default text sizes in FFox2 this otherwise good site's centre column does overlap the right hand column rather than wrap properly. It is worth fixing, though I'd hardly call it broken.

As for this reported Neri-Frith tryst, if true, she should be tossed on her can without severance for not having a clue about ethics; and every MP should be informed in writing of her conflict, and then declare whether they feel the vote was tainted enough to be revisited.

The Tories likely won't, but would any other? What party will stand up to the U.S. film industry? Given that all have dug it a black whole with subsidies that will never pay us back in jobs, especially now that the dollar is high, and that has only been a boon when you ignore the regular use of UI by film workers here, well ... none, I'd bet.
September 25, 2007

Nick said:

...
I am using Firefox and it doesn't display well on my 1050x1680 display but its fine on my 1680x1050 display so it looks like jason is correct.
September 25, 2007

Dale Bolton said:

Dale Bolton
I sent an email to my MP about this situation and pointed out the fact that Oda, the old Heritage minister was in bed with the media cartels and that it was akin to the head of the RCMP being in bed with the drug czars. 5 months later I got an email from Oda stating that this law was wanted by EVERYONE in the Canadian industry and that money had nothing to do with it. Here is the email

Dear Dale Bolton:

Thank you for your correspondence forwarded to me by your Member of
Parliament, Mr. Ken Boshcoff, outlining your views regarding Bill C-59, An
Act to amend the Criminal Code (unauthorized recording of a movie) as well
as private copying generally.

http://tinyurl.com/366wkr

I appreciate being advised of your views and have noted your comments with
respect to these matters. The Government of Canada recognized the
seriousness of the camcording problem and its impact on the film industry
in Canada as a whole, and moved quickly to take action against it. Bill
C-59 was introduced in Parliament on June 1, 2007, by the Minister of
Justice. This legislation amends the Criminal Code of Canada to create two
new offences to address unauthorized camcording in movie theatres. On June
22, 2007, this bill became law when it received Royal Assent. Additional
detailed information on Bill C-59 is available by visiting the following
Parliament of Canada Web site at


One prohibition deals with the recording of a film in a movie theatre
without the consent of the theatre manager and the other deals with the
same action for the purpose of sale, rental or other commercial
distribution. The penalties for these offences range from imprisonment of
six months to five years. In addition, this legislation gives the courts
the discretion to order the seizure of any equipment used to commit the
offence.

The bill was supported by all political parties, as indicated by its rapid
progression through Parliament. All of the stakeholders involved in the
film industry in Canada expressed their support for this legislation,
including those involved in production (actors, directors, technicians,
producers), in distribution and in exhibition. Law enforcement officials
also expressed their support for Bill C-59. This support is a clear
indication of the importance of this measure for Canadians. It should be
noted that this legislation does not affect Canadas private copying
mechanism for musical works.

I trust that this information is useful. Please accept my best wishes.

Yours sincerely,




Bev Oda, P.C., M.P.
September 25, 2007

bMan said:

...
Camino 1.5.1 looks fine here!
September 25, 2007

Tub said:

...
I find it disgusting how easily American companies can dictate foreign legislation to their own (profitable) benefit. Are we all puppets and slaves to the American Profit Agenda? Personal freedoms, the environment... none of it seems nearly as important as American companies making money. At what point are we going to stand up and tell them to stick it where the sun don't shine? When are we going to show the world that we find that some things are more important than making the filthy rich even richer?
September 25, 2007

Ed said:

...
it's so sad to see what is essentially a civil matter being made into a criminal one.
If I infringe on your copyright, sue me, but don't pay off politicians to make laws, that will take the costs away from you (enforcing the copyright) and pushing it to the taxpayers

September 25, 2007

Peter said:

...
The answers to your questions are, in order:
Yes, never, and never.

Canada is considered nothing than a wiping rag to American companies and concerns.
Dick Cheney (the American Vice President in charge of Everything) believes that Canada should do whatever America says, because America has The Bomb and Canada doesnt.
September 25, 2007

mliving said:

Throw the Book At Her
The RCMP lies about the cost of piracy.

The government shrugs it's collective shoulders and mumbles "meh".

Ms Neri is getting serious INPUT from a less than respected movies industry lobbyist. (Isn't conflict of interest a criminal offence?)

The government pulls a deer in the headlights routine hoping no one will notice! And Canadians learn about these assaults on democracy on foreign websites. So much for the integrity of Canada's media!?


September 25, 2007

Shaze said:

Captain
I love you Michael.

Serisouly; I read about 10-20 stories a day regarding the US Government's sactioned treatment of their citizens, through corporate-led "laws". Everyday I see this, it makes me grateful that our country has you to mind the copywrite fences.

The work you do for the people and our government is not only commendable, but it is without exception the single thing that makes you a hero in my book. Unlike officials in the USA, you are doing something for the people, not just to them.

Bottom Line: You are our representative for fairness and truth in this Capitolistic society, and I eagerly look forward to giving you more power and a bigger voice.
September 25, 2007

coldmast said:

why are this dismal issues even discusse
should social, economic, and environment issues be higher up then Hollywood profits
September 25, 2007

DarkPhoenix said:

Bunch of losers
"All of the stakeholders involved in the
film industry in Canada expressed their support for this legislation,
including those involved in production (actors, directors, technicians,
producers), in distribution and in exhibition. Law enforcement officials
also expressed their support for Bill C-59. This support is a clear
indication of the importance of this measure for Canadians."

Heh, that's like asking the tobacco companies if smoking really kills, and then passing a law stating that smoking is healthy because "many Canadians have indicated its importance". If you ask only one side of the debate, you get a flawed opinion of the debate. Maybe try asking the other side? You know, the ones who actually PUT YOU MORONS IN OFFICE and can throw you out on your sorry asses if we feel like it?

As for the American cartels, I'm of the opinion that they can take their BS clone movies and shoddy programming and shove it where the sun don't shine. It sure doesn't help Canada's economy or independence to let the American cartels tear away at it and then use their money to take our freedom.
September 25, 2007

Chris said:

Senator Milne
[ link ]

Senator Milne's comments are funnily prescient. BTW, can Bloc Quebeqois Heritage Critic MP Maka Koto be accountable under the Ethics Commissioner for being an actor active in movies and television work? It just seems a little odd to have a financial interest in that while in Parliament and supporting that bill.

And you know what, if "Canadian" Heritage feels pressured to do this, then they must ALSO pass the bill to limit awful American Hollywood movies in Canadian theaters, and increase the amount of Canadian movies, like how this article advocates:

[ link ]

"
Not Playing: Canadian Films
When the Canadian government introduced Canadian Content rules for radio, listeners from coast to coast to coast were made to endure the strains of Gowan, Glass Tiger and Platinum Blonde. Today, many Canuck acts are critically acclaimed and commercially viablehitting the Billboard charts on a regular basis. Could screen quotas do the same thing for our homegrown filmmakers?
...
How to resolve this situation? Just look at France, Germany, Spain and Britain. All these countries produce movies that are critically and commercially successful both at home and abroad. These success stories were made possible, in part, by screen quotas. Take Spain as an example. Spanish screens must show one domestic film for every three foreign ones. This is enforced through a licensing system. For every 10 million pesetas (about $83,000 cdn) that a Spanish movie makes, that exhibitor can apply for a licence to dub and show a foreign movie at the same venue. Moreover, 15% of the exhibitors' profits then go back into a production fund for Spanish filmmakers.
"


Until "Canadian" Heritage does that, I can't shake the feeling that the camcording bill was simply yet another American assault on Canadian sovereignty. America would never stand for Canada doing that to its Congress. The Conservative party talked about parliamentary supremacy yet bowed to an American lobby group. Yuck.
September 25, 2007

Sam said:

Scientist
I wonder what the going rate is for an former politician hooker? Do you think is would be more that $10.00 U.S. dollars.

I love this "sex for bills". Man those Canadian's have learned a lot from America.
September 26, 2007

Sam said:

The Scientist
For a government like Canada which prides itself in ethics at the highest level. A government which has prided itself above even the U.S. government in ethics.

The real question is;

How many more Harlots and Hustlers (aka., rent boys) does the U.S. government and Hollywood have waiting in the wings of Canadian government? Ready to betray their own for a few hours of sex.

This entire affair is well, truely fun to watch.
September 26, 2007

a guest said:

It takes two to tango...
What is the code of ethics for a registered lobbyist in Ottawa? What is the consequence of its violation by Mr. Frith?
September 26, 2007

Peter L said:

...
From the letter sent to Dale Bolton above:
"All of the stakeholders involved in the film industry in Canada expressed their support for this legislation, including those involved in production (actors,
directors, technicians, producers), in distribution and in exhibition."

I love comments like these. So the only "stakeholders" in copyright legislation are people in the film industry? Once again we see that decision-makers in the copyright arena have lost any sense that there might be a "public interest" involved that may, or may not, align with the interests of the "stakeholders."
September 26, 2007

Tub said:

...
Until movie companies stop paying actors $20+ million dollars for a couple of month's work, we're going to keep paying $15 for a bag of popcorn at the theaters. These media companies make money hand-over-fist, yes, but their biggest liabilities are the artists themselves! If A-list actors made $400,000 per film (a mere 2% of the previous figure,) we could all afford to go to the movies more often and the need for piracy would quickly evaporate.

It's simple economics... as the cost of a product increases, the market begins to look for lower-cost alternatives. Don't keep offloading your ballooning production costs to the viewers - make going to the theaters affordable again and less people will pirate DVDs.
September 26, 2007

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