Fact and Fiction

With the government likely to introduce copyright legislation sometime in the next week or two, Canadians are likely to face a barrage of rhetoric from copyright owners, alternately saluting the government for introducing a copyright bill while also criticizing them for not going far enough to protect Canada's cultural industries.

I am certain I will have a thing or two to say about the bill once it is introduced, though assuming the government follows the plan unveiled in March, Canada is likely to get a bill that overwhelmingly addresses copyright owner interests (making available right, protection for technical protection measures rather than from them, new copyright rights for photographers and performers of sound recordings, etc.) with little for millions of individual Canadians other than the cold comfort that it could have been worse (the U.S. implementation of TPM protection and the adoption of a notice and takedown system, for example). There will be nothing on reforming the statutory damages provisions, moving toward fair use (as the Australians are considering), eliminating crown copyright, providing for greater transparency of the copyright collectives so Canadians have a better understanding of where the hundreds of millions of dollars collected each year ends up, and embracing policies that support the incredible flourishing of creativity that we are seeing on a daily basis today online.

Copyright owner rhetoric aside, it is unfortunate that we are also unlikely to see many people actually referring to statistical evidence to support their claims that copyright reform is desperately needed. There is a reason for this, of course. The evidence suggests otherwise. Statistics Canada today released the latest in a long line of reports on the Canadian cultural sector. Today's report, which focuses on the periodical industry, is the most comprehensive look at the industry from the government's statistics agency in many years. The verdict? The Canadian periodical industry has never been healthier with a steady increase in magazines, revenue, and circulation between 1993 and 2003. Government cultural programs, not stronger copyright laws, have supported that growth. In fact, digging deeper into the data reveals that Canadian magazines generated more than $10 million in revenues in 2003 from their websites and e-commerce activities.

This report is not an isolated incident. I've previously written about the music industry's exaggerations regarding its financial situation, with growth in both revenue and units shipped in the 13 months since the trial level file sharing decision last March (there is an answer to Graham Henderson's recent rhetorical comment that we don't know how many artists' careers have been hurt by that decision. We do. None). Statistics Canada also reported on economic growth in the television, industry last week, though it again called attention to the Canadian cultural deficit in late May.

The sum total of this data (and similar relatively recent data on film) is that there are good news, bad news, and really bad news stories here. The good news is that Canadian cultural industries are doing well and that Canadian cultural support is having its desired effect. The bad news is that notwithstanding the growth, Canada still has a significant cultural goods and services deficit so that for all the success, foreign creators and companies continue to take far more out of Canada, than Canadians earn abroad. The really bad news is that we are about to see proposals for Canadian copyright laws that will both ignore our successes and exacerbate our shortcomings.

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