Fair Dealing by Giulia Forsythe (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/dRkXwP
The revolving door between government and lobby groups has long been a source of concern in the United States, where lead government IP officials have regularly jumped to lobby groups representing music, movies, and software interests and vice versa. In recent years, that has included the USTR official responsible for copyright in ACTA and the TPP moving the MPAA, the lead software industry lobbyist joining the USTR, and the general counsel of the Copyright Office joining the top international music association.
The Lobby Monitor reports that the revolving door has apparently migrated to Canada, with the former Director of Regulatory Affairs for Music Canada joining the government to play a key role in copyright policy, only to be replaced by the former Director of Parliamentary Affairs within the Prime Minister’s Office, who was the lead on the surprise copyright term extension for sound recordings passed in 2015.
Bill C-11, the copyright bill that will allow Canada to accede to an international copyright treaty that will improve access for the blind and visually impaired, was fast tracked on Tuesday with unanimous approval to consider the bill read, studied, and passed three times. There will be no House of Commons committee hearings on the bill, which now heads to the Senate for approval. The bill received first reading at the Senate today. With no hearings and little debate, the bill will pass quickly without any changes. I wrote about Bill C-11 last month, noting that it is a positive step forward but that some provisions may be unduly restrictive when compared to the implementation approach recommended by some copyright groups.
One of the most notable provisions (which was raised by Carla Qualtrough, the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities) is that the bill amends Canada’s anti-circumvention rules by expanding the exception on digital locks. NDP MP Charlie Angus, a veteran of the copyright battles on Parliament Hill, seized on the issue to ask whether the government would address the remaining digital lock restrictions. The answer from Minister Qaultrough: yes.
Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly surprised culture and Internet watchers last week by announcing plans for a comprehensive review of Canadian content policies in a digital world. Joly says everything is on the table including broadcasting regulation, Cancon funding mechanisms, copyright law, the role of the CBC, and the future of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).
While there is little doubt that the current framework was established for a different era, rules that have sheltered the industry from foreign competition and transferred hundreds of millions of dollars from consumers to creator groups will not disappear without a fight. Indeed, my weekly technology column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) warns that the most common refrain from the Canadian cultural community is likely to be that the existing rules should be extended to the Internet.
Voltage Pictures, which previously engaged in a lengthy court battle to require Canadian ISPs to disclose the names of alleged file sharers, has adopted a new legal strategy. This week, the company filed an unusual application in federal court, seeking certification of a reverse class action against an unknown number of alleged uploaders of five movies using BitTorrent (The Cobbler, Pay the Ghost, Good Kill, Fathers and Daughters, and American Heist). The use of reverse class actions is very rare in Canada (only a few have been reported). There were attempts to use the mechanism in copyright claims in the U.S. several years ago without success.
The Voltage filing seeks certification of the class, a declaration that each member of the class has infringed its copyright, an injunction stopping further infringement, damages, and costs of the legal proceedings. Voltage names as its representative respondent John Doe (linked to a Rogers IP address). It admits that it does not know the names or identifies of any members of its proposed class, but seeks to group anyone in Canada who infringed the copyright on one of the five movies. Voltage does not say how many people it has identified as infringing its copyright. It urges the court to issue an order to stop the infringement and to assess damages to be paid by each person.
As the political world was focused on the Liberal government’s inaugural budget last month, Navdeep Bains, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, introduced his first bill as minister by quietly moving ahead with plans to reform Canadian copyright law to allow for the ratification of an international treaty devoted to increasing access to copyrighted works for the blind.
The World Intellectual Property Organization’s Marrakesh Treaty expands access for the blind by facilitating the creation and export of works in accessible formats to the more than 300 million blind and visually impaired people around the world. Moreover, the treaty restricts the use of digital locks that can impede access, by permitting the removal of technological restrictions on electronic books for the benefit of the blind and visually impaired.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that the Canadian decision to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty is long overdue. The Conservatives announced plans to do so in last year’s budget but waited to table legislation days before the summer break and the election call. With that bill now dead, the Liberals have rightly moved quickly to revive the issue.