Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau released his government’s 2017 budget today and while the spending promises may be underwhelming for some, the documents sets out an ambitious agenda for digital policy review. In fact, with changes to copyright, patent, broadcast, telecom, net neutrality, digital taxes, fintech, Canadian media, and Cancon all under consideration, the coming year will have enormous implications for the future of Canada’s digital policies.
The budget does include several spending promises, including $13.2 million over five years to support an affordable Internet access program, $50 million for kids coding programs, $29.5 million over five years for digital literacy, and $14.9 million for digitization of Indigenous language and materials. There is also new money for the growth of artificial intelligence sector and the much-anticipated revamping of innovation funding programs.
Yet the biggest digital implications may ultimately come from the policy reforms. First up may be new digital sales taxes. The budget includes a commitment to extend sales taxes to ride sharing companies such as Uber, a move that seems likely to ultimately lead to a broader extension of sales taxes to digital services such as Netflix.
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The release of today’s federal budget is expected to include a significant emphasis on innovation, with the government revealing how it plans to spend (or re-allocate) hundreds of millions of dollars that is intended to support innovation. Canada’s dismal innovation record needs attention, but spending our way to a more innovative economy is unlikely to yield the desired results. While Navdeep Bains, the Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister, has talked for months about the importance of innovation, Toronto Star columnist Paul Wells today delivers a cutting but accurate assessment of those efforts:
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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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The copyright mistake at Concordia – a poetry centre scanned several books and posted them on the Internet without permission – has attracted considerable attention in the press and social media. Kate Taylor wrote a Globe and Mail column placing much of the blame at the feet of fair dealing, while I responded with a post yesterday that noted that no one claimed that the posting of the full-text books was permissible and that Concordia was an ill-advised target for fair dealing criticism given that it has a copyright collective licence with Copibec that compensates for copying on campus.
While the focus of the Taylor column and my response was on fair dealing and collective licensing, the Taylor column also included several references to the use of a scanner to digitize books. In particular, it concludes by stating that “Ottawa needs to plug that education loophole good before somebody tries to drive a $10,000 book scanner right through it.”
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Globe and Mail columnist Kate Taylor published an article on Friday titled Concordia University Caught on the Wrong Side of Copyright, which focused on a copyright violation at the Montreal-based university. While Taylor thinks that the Concordia incident demonstrates the problems with copyright and fair dealing (she writes “scofflaws in the universities have been egged on in Canada by the 2012 amendments to the Copyright Act that included a vaguely worded, broad-brush education exemption), a closer look suggests that the case actually says far more about the problems with collective licensing.
The issue at Concordia involved unauthorized scanning and online posting of several poetry books (I will have a follow-up post on the scanning issue). Once the publishers complained, the books were quickly removed. The director of the centre responsible for the posting acknowledged the error and indicated that he planned to purchase five copies of each book, which is equal to the number of graduate students who attend a weekly reading group. That would seem to be the end of the issue as no one suggests that the posting of the entire books were permitted or consistent with university policy, the issue was addressed immediately, and there was an attempt to compensate for the perceived losses.
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