Fair Dealing by Giulia Forsythe (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/dRkXwP
For the past two months, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has been publishing an exceptionally important series on the problems with Trans Pacific Partnership. I was pleased to participate in this initiative and yesterday the CCPA posted my contribution. The Trouble with the TPP’s Copyright Rules draws on my earlier Trouble with the TPP series to highlight several of the copyright concerns associated with the agreement, including copyright term extension, the limited applicability of Canada’s notice-and-notice rules, and the expanded criminalization of copyright law.
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.
The centerpiece of Canada’s 2012 digital copyright reforms was the legal implementation of the “notice-and-notice” system that seeks to balance the interests of copyright holders, the privacy rights of Internet users, and the legal obligations of Internet service providers (ISPs). The law makes it easy for copyright owners to send infringement notices to ISPs, who are legally required to forward the notifications to their subscribers. The personal information of subscribers is not disclosed to the copyright owner.
Despite the promise of the notice-and-notice system, it has been misused virtually from the moment it took effect with copyright owners exploiting a loophole in the law by sending settlement demands within the notices.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that the government has tried to warn recipients that they need not settle – the Office of Consumer Affairs advises that there are no obligations on a subscriber that receives a notice and that getting a notice does not necessarily mean you will be sued – yet many subscribers panic when they receive notifications and promptly pay hundreds or thousands of dollars.
In recent weeks, there has been some media coverage claiming that Canadian educational materials are disappearing in the face of copyright fair dealing rules. For example, several weeks ago, Globe and Mail writer Kate Taylor wrote a column on copyright featuring the incendiary headline that “Kids Will Suffer if Canada’s Copyright Legislation Doesn’t Change.” This week, the CBC provided coverage of a writer’s conference panel with a piece titled “Copyright-free material edging out Canadian texts” that speaks of sales falling off a cliff.
These articles are the latest shots in the battle launched by Canadian publisher and writer groups against fair dealing. The campaign includes regular meetings with Members of Parliament from all parties (speak to almost any MP and they will tell you that they have heard horror stories about Canadian copyright), international letter writing campaigns, and commissioned studies that feature unsubstantiated claims about the state of licensing revenues in Canada (the PWC study comes with the caveat that “we provide no opinion, attestation or other form of assurance with respect to the results of this Assessment”).
While there have been some notable responses from people such as Meera Nair, many copyright watchers have remained largely silent, perhaps assuming that the reliance on false rhetoric will fail to find an audience. It is true that the claims have fallen flat with key independent decision makers such as the Supreme Court of Canada, the Copyright Board of Canada, and the Australian government’s Productivity Commission, but the persistent rhetoric could lead to an inaccurate view of Canadian copyright just as a review of the law is planned for 2017.
The ability to record television programs is a feature that most consumers take for granted today, but when the Sony Betamax was first introduced in the 1970s, it revolutionized television and sparked high profile lawsuits by the major Hollywood studios who wanted to block its availability. The battle between Universal Studios and Sony ultimately made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that Sony was not liable for contributing to copyright infringement since its product had substantial non-infringing uses.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that the battle between established players and distributors of disruptive technologies has since played out many times in courtrooms and legislatures around the world. From the introduction of the portable MP3 player (which the recording industry tried to stop in a 1999 case) to disputes over the availability of virtual private network services, judges and policy makers often return to the U.S. Supreme Court’s recognition that stopping the distribution of new technologies merely because they are capable of infringing copyrights would create an enormous barrier to new products and services that have many different uses.