Last month, I traveled to Australia and New Zealand as part of a group of experts to discuss copyright fair use and fair dealing. The trip included several public talks, meetings with government officials, a book launch on Reimagining Copyright, and the chance to discuss copyright policy directly with publishers, educators, and librarians. Videos of some of the panels are available online, including a New Zealand forum on copyright and innovation and a panel on comparative copyright limitations and exceptions at the Australian Digital Alliance annual conference.
Among the most notable aspects of the trip was the revelation of efforts by publishers and copyright collectives to mislead policy makers on the state of copyright law in Canada. While not everyone is buying it – this keynote from the Australian Productivity Commission’s Deputy Chair Karen Chester was a mic drop moment that eviscerated the publisher arguments against fair use – the efforts to mislead on the impact of Canadian copyright reform was unmistakable. For example, at one event with many publishers in the audience, I was approached by one representative who told me she was embarrassed by what her company had submitted to the Australian policy process after learning about the reality of the situation in Canada. Similarly, another Australian publisher executive who had spent years with one of Canada’s largest educational publishers, openly acknowledged that fair use and fair dealing had little to do with the challenges faced by the industry.
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Imagine going to your local library in search of Canadian books. You wander through the stacks but are surprised to find most shelves barren with the exception of books that are over a hundred years old. This sounds more like an abandoned library than one serving the needs of its patrons, yet it is roughly what a recently released Canadian National Heritage Digitization Strategy envisions.
Led by Library and Archives Canada and endorsed by Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly, the strategy acknowledges that digital technologies make it possible “for memory institutions to provide immediate access to their holdings to an almost limitless audience.”
Yet it stops strangely short of trying to do just that.
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In February 2007, Stephanie Lenz, a California mother of a pair of young toddlers, shot a short video of her children dancing in the family kitchen with the Prince song “Let’s Go Crazy” playing in the background. Lenz proceeded to upload the 29 second video to YouTube so that friends and family could see it.
Thousands of hours of user-generated video are posted online every day and there was nothing particularly remarkable about the dancing baby video. What set it apart, however, was that several months later Universal Music Group, Prince’s music label, sent a takedown notice to YouTube claiming that it infringed its copyright.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that similar takedown notices are sent to Internet intermediaries such as Google every hour. Yet this particular takedown demand seemed so at odds with the law (few experts believe it infringes copyright) that it sparked an eight year court battle in the United States and served as the inspiration for a 2012 Canadian copyright reform that protects users and websites that create and host non-commercial user-generated content.
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Last night I posted on reports that the Canadian government is considering a new copyright exception for political advertising. While many have been harshly critical of the plans, I’ve noted that political speech is critically important and that copyright law should not be used to stifle it. My post argues that the law may already cover some of the uses and that if changes are needed, a better approach would be to adopt a fair use provision in Canada.
I have now obtained a copy of the document that was presented by the Minister of Canadian Heritage. The document is obviously consistent with the media reports, but provides significantly more detail and raises several additional questions and concerns.
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Reports from CTV and the Globe and Mail indicate that the government is planning to introduce a new copyright exception for political advertising. The reports suggest that the exception would permit the use of news content in political advertising without authorization provided that it meets three conditions:
News content would have to meet three criteria for this exemption, the cabinet memo says. It would have to be published or made available through TV broadcasts or platforms such as YouTube. It would have to be obtained from a news source such as a news program or newspaper or periodical. And it would have to feature a political actor operating in that person’s capacity as a politician, or relate to a political issue.
While the reports sparked an immediate reaction claiming the government is legalizing theft, my view is that copyright law should not be used to stifle legitimate speech. Political speech – even noxious attack ads – surely qualifies as important speech that merits protection (see this CDT analysis for similar concerns in the US). I am not a fan of attack ads, but attempts to use copyright to claim absolute rights over the use of a portion of a video clip is surely counter to basic principles of fair dealing (in Canada) or fair use.
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