With the Canadian goverment likely to introduce a copyright bill this week, the Hill Times
features an op-ed
I wrote on the forthcoming process.
argues that as the distinction between copyright creators and copyright users becomes blurred, individual Canadians increasingly recognize the direct impact of copyright reform on their everyday lives. This shift toward a greater public concern with copyright has been building over the past few years. Starting with the 2001 Digital Copyright consultation, there has been a remarkable surge of interest and awareness with media stories, petitions, and even the Supreme Court of Canada's emphasis on balance.
Despite the activity, government policy makers have struggled to incorporate the perspective directly into the policy making process. This was evident during the 2001 consultation when it did not know what to do with the hundreds of emailed submissions from individuals.
I argue that it has become increasingly apparent that the government ignores the user constituency at its peril. In 2003, Bill C-36, a small copyright bill dubbed the Lucy Maud Montgomery Copyright Term Extension Act, ultimately failed to become law when vocal user interests criticized a backroom deal brokered among the "traditional" stakeholder groups.
That same year, as the Canadian Heritage Standing Committee wrestled with complex copyright reform issues, then-minister Sheila Copps urged committee members to simply hear from CRIA, but one stakeholder, to see what it would consider acceptable wording. That committee's deliberations proved unable to advance the copyright file in any meaningful way.
More recently, that same committee's May 2004 Interim Report on Copyright Reform, better known as the Bulte Report, was soundly rejected by the government. The committee's failure to include a strong representation of user interests as well as the one-sided nature of its recommendations effectively forced the government to adopt a more balanced position.
While I don't have all the answers, I conclude by suggesting that government provide active support to public interest groups and ensure that user interests are granted a full seat at the table. Anything less may well result in a failed process and an angry electorate unwilling to surrender their personal stake in Canadian copyright law.