In May of this year, Canadian Heritage Minister Bev Oda delivered the keynote address to the Professional Writers Association of Canada. Oda acknowledged that "that freelance writers are one of the groups most concerned with Canada’s copyright policy." While Oda's appearance at the PWAC event might be seen as evidence that she is sympathetic with the concerns of Canadian writers, action speaks louder than words. Last week, Oda released her response to a Senate report on the Canadians news media. One of the Senate recommendations dealt specifically with copyright and freelance writers:
That the Minister of Canadian Heritage examine whether there is any abuse of author's rights in the requirements imposed by universal contracts and, if so, explore amendments to the Copyright Act.
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The Canadian Heritage Parliamentary Committee has received two briefings on copyright from department officials in recent weeks. The first briefing was "copyright 101" briefing. The second briefing, focusing on future reform plans, was more interesting. The officials did their best to say as little as possible – when questioned about timing or specific issues, they found multiple ways to avoid directly answering the question. There were, however, several noteworthy exchanges including a moment when Charlie Angus (NDP) noted that many countries have yet to ratify WIPO (as opposed to the "coalition of the digital willing" that includes Azerbaijan and Botswana), and Danielle Bouvet from Heritage responded with obligatory "Canada is trying to have its own made-in-Canada legislation on copyright." Further, Mauril Belanger (Liberal) spent a lot of time asking about the lobby groups who are asking questions about copyright and asked for a list of all groups that have met with Canadian Heritage and Industry Canada since January.
More troubling were two exchanges that may not have provided the MPs with a fully accurate sense of the law.
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I'm several weeks late on this, but Canadian Heritage has released the 2005 Music Industry Profile. The most noteworthy data point comes in the introduction – Canadian artists have seen their sales increase since 2001. Sales of Canadian albums have increased from 6.8 million units in 2001 to 8.5 million […]
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While the Harper government last week passed accountability legislation in the House of Commons, my weekly Law Bytes column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) suggests that another form of lobbying exists that requires closer scrutiny – lobbying that is financed by the government itself. According to government documents obtained under the Access to Information Act, last fall the Ministry of Canadian Heritage entered into a multi-year agreement with the Creators' Rights Alliance, a national coalition of artists groups and copyright collectives with members both small (the League of Canadian Poets) and large (SOCAN and Access Copyright). The CRA has eight objectives, which notably include "to ensure that government policy and legislation recognize that copyright is fundamentally about the rights of creators" and "to ensure that international treaties and obligations to which Canada is signatory provide the strongest possible protection for the rights of creators."
The Canadian Heritage – CRA agreement, which could run until 2008 at a total cost of nearly $400,000, appears to be designed primarily to enable the CRA to lobby the government on copyright reform. In return for $125,000 annually, the CRA provides the Ministry with its views on copyright in the form of comments, analysis or research papers (other deliverables include a policy conference, website communications, and a regular newsletter).
The contract raises several issues.
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