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House of Commons Lawyers Sent Takedown Notices Over Committee Video

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Monday May 11, 2009
In the spring of 2007, Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, the well-known broadcasting advocacy group, began to post videos and podcasts of Parliamentary committee proceedings on their website.  When officials at the House of Commons caught wind of their activities, they promptly sent a cease and desist letter, demanding that the videos and podcasts be removed from the Internet.  A lawyer for the House of Commons argued that posting excerpts from committee proceedings could be treated as "contempt of Parliament." The group responded that they did not want to remove the videos, but would be willing to follow a reasonable procedure to obtain the necessary permissions.  That response did not sit well with the Chairs of the Finance and Canadian Heritage Standing Committees, who upon learning that the group was offering webcasts and downloads of their proceedings, asked the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs (SCPHA) to examine the issue to prevent further infringement.

My weekly technology column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that the idea that videos of committee hearings constitute proprietary content that when used without permission raise the potential for allegations of contempt of Parliament or copyright infringement will undoubtedly come as news to many Canadians.  Using these excerpts in YouTube videos, webcasts, or podcasts has emerged as an important and powerful tool for business and consumer groups to educate the public on policy issues and legislative proposals. Yet House of Commons lawyers maintain that many of these activities violate the law and have sent notice and takedown demands to YouTube seeking the removal of videos that include House of Commons and committee proceedings. These include clips that involve satire and parody, since they are seen to "distort" the video itself.

SCPHA hearings held earlier this year revealed that Canada's elected officials safeguard Parliamentary video with very restrictive licencing requirements that are generally limited to use in schools or for private study, research, criticism or review.  Relying on crown copyright, the policy states that any other use - including any commercial use - requires the express prior written approval of the Speaker of the House of Commons. This stands in sharp contrast to the United States, where the default presumption is that such videos are in the public domain and can be freely used without permission.  House of Commons lawyers portrayed that approach as representing an extreme position.

To their credit, most of the MPs on the Committee recognized that changes to the policies in the YouTube era are needed.  However, MPs from the three opposition parties expressed some reluctance to mirror the U.S. approach, fearing that some videos taken out of context could be "terrifically damaging." Bloc MP Claude DeBellefeuille raised the possibility of lawsuits to enforce the copyright and noted that "we will have to establish rules so that we have some recourse and that remarks can be withdrawn after they have been broadcast and pointed out."

Conservative MP Scott Reid came closest to recognizing the problems associated with retaining certain restrictions, warning against policies that provide that videos are "usable for certain purposes but not for the purposes that lie at the heart of what this speech is for."  Instead, he argued that using video excerpts for either favourable or critical purposes would be appropriate.

The Committee ultimately adopted a liberalized policy that permits non-commercial, accurate reproduction without prior permission.  Commercial uses still require prior approval, while "distorting" a video for parody, satire or political comment purposes may still fall outside the licence and lead to demands for its removal.  The new policy is a modest improvement, but it fails to fully realize the potential of public political participation through online video.
Comments (19)add comment

Anon Name said:

Another "Made worse in Canada" aspect of copyright
They can't buy the court of public opinion and are now trying to silence it by using any legal tools they have.
May 11, 2009

VancouverDave said:

As one of the owners....
I hereby rescind any takedown notices and declare the contents of my employees' meetings to be free for public dissemination.
May 11, 2009

Devil's Advocate said:

Canadians?... Restrain their parodies!?!????
"Commercial uses still require prior approval, while 'distorting' a video for parody, satire or political comment purposes may still fall outside the licence and lead to demands for its removal."

Well, isn't that special?!
Since when is the right to create a parody not a given in Canada (or the US)?

And, if it's not alright to parody recorded House proceedings, then several CBC comedy shows (eg. Air Farce, 22 Minutes, Rick Mercer, etc.) have been guilty of violating this supposed "policy" for many years.

...And some wonder why we make fun of them so much.
May 11, 2009

crade said:

Teach a man to censor
Oh common, give Mao and his disciples a break, they've gotta stay in power somehow.
May 11, 2009

Gregg said:

Aren't those public domain?
I thought government stuff like that was public domain?
May 11, 2009

Anon Name said:

It is public domain... in the US. Not in Canada.
In Canada, there is Crown and there is Crown copyright. It seems like Canadian citizens forget that the head of the state is the Queen, not the Prime Minister of Canada.

You can vote here to make sure that Canada gets rid of both crown copyright and the crown:

http://voice.liberal.ca/pages/14699-on-probation/suggestions/159782-abolish-the-monarchy-in-canada-and-stop-wasting-our-money
May 11, 2009

Dissenter said:

...
I don't know. I think there's a valid discussion to be had on the value to a healthy democracy of distortions through satire and parody of processes which are to intended to be sober and serious. We've had eight years of watching the Americans yuck it up over their appalling government and most of that served to simply permit the populace to "laugh off" the atrocities and feel better about them, when it would have been better for them to get angry enough to stop them.

I really don't think the Age of Youtube is exactly lacking in parody and satire.
May 17, 2009

Sean said:

...
The political class is scared. Now we have our own recordings of the lies they tell us. We don't have to rely on the media they OWN anymore. Soon enough we will deny them the power they currently hold over us.
May 17, 2009

Ryan said:

Corporations
All governments in Canada are defacto,they are actually corporations operating within their own corporate laws and corporate language. Those laws are copyright, all Canadian legislation is copyright. If they are in fact lawful government, how can those laws be copyright, would they not be public domain. And yet all of the laws printed in Canada are copywritten usually by the Queens Press.
May 17, 2009

HP said:

How does parliamentary proceedings become restricted?
I fail to appreciate how someone can even suggest that parliamentary proceedings are restricted (unless we are dealing with specific, security related stuff). Parliamentarians are voted into parliament and are answerable to the population. Hiding themselves behind veils of confidentiality when it does not apply, is disingenious.
May 17, 2009

huh said:

what about when MP's post them?
http://www.youtube.com/rickdykstr
May 17, 2009

Doug Webb said:

Are these creative works?
Copyright exists to encourage creative works. I hardly think we need copyright to encourage government to hold more committee meetings!

May 17, 2009

Andrew said:

Country's a joke!
This country seriously lacks the leadership and vision to enter the 21st century. Each and everyday our country becomes more of a nanny state and more censorship. It's time for more transparency in our government. Growing up, I'm contstantly told that the government is the people. I see a handful of politicans being "the decider" based on old views and opinions. Youtube is the 21st century and videos of Parliament are PUBLIC. Our politicans works for us, they don't work for themselves. Anything a politican does while they're in public session should be privy to every single Canadian.
May 18, 2009

Jason Kurczak said:

Isn't criticism one of the conditions of fair dealing?
I'm lost on how parody or satire wouldn't qualify as criticism under fair dealing...
May 18, 2009

Brian said:

...
Canadian citizen here.

I'd very much like to have meeting minutes in any form available any time anywhere. If this messes with the CPAC monopoly on the broadcast then they can go the way of the dinosaur. I can't search their media database, comment on it, or bookmark it.

Let the more efficient distribution mechanism of this information win. My only issue is that Youtube is a private American company. So far they have treated me well, however, I should be able to obtain these recordings as freely from a public sector digital library any time I darn well please.
May 18, 2009

a worker said:

But we can watch them on TV
I hope you realise we can still see these on the TV, so saying this is censorship is plain wrong. Also I have watched these for many years and find the behaviour most vile. I have reasons for disliking politicians because of what I see on the parliamentary channel.
May 18, 2009

Sebastian said:

Such nonsense...
This is ridiculous. In a modern and open democracy, all public parliamentary sessions and hearings should be recorded and published on the web by the parliament itself free of charge with no copyright attached in a non-proprietary file format for all the nation and also everyone else in the world to see. As the parliament is elected by the people and acts as a representative of the people, the people has all the right to know what happens in the parliament. Governmental transparency is the keyword here.

Calling the distribution of these recordings a "contempt of Parliament" is so backwards-thinking that I cannot even believe that they are serious with this.
May 18, 2009

John said:

Where's the petition?
Is there a petition online to request a reform of this policy? I'm ready to sign it. I had always assumed that House of Commons footage was in the public domain - how wrong I was!
May 18, 2009

Andrei Mincov said:

My recent article on parody and Salinger lawsuit
Recently I wrote a 100-page comparative research paper on the treatment of parody in the copyright laws of common law countries and selected European countries. Thus, I could not help but voice my thoughts regarding the ongoing dispute between J.D. Salinger and the author and publishers of a purported sequel to The Catcher in the Rye.

I have posted my new article “Why Courts Should Not Allow the Parody Exception to Make a Parody of the Copyright Law” at http://mincov.com/articles/ind...er_Parody/

I hope you don’t mind me using your blog to advertise it. I would appreciate any comments you may have with regard to my article.
July 02, 2009

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