Emerson on Copyright

As the Minister responsible for the Copyright Act, Industry Minister David Emerson has said surprisingly little about Bill C-60.  Earlier this week in a speech in Saskatchewan, Emerson used three paragraphs to reference copyright and intellectual property.  This foray into the copyright debate is a disappointment and deserves some comment.  

Emerson stated the following to the Regina and Saskatoon Chambers of Commerce on August 23rd:

In a knowledge-based economy, intellectual property becomes an increasingly important asset. Writers, creators and innovators must enjoy protection of their intellectual property rights or we destroy the incentive to create, to invent or to innovate. Worse still, these agents of innovation and creativity will quickly move to jurisdictions where intellectual property is protected and processes are in place to enforce it.

Canadian Heritage and Industry Canada have significant improvements in copyright legislation before Parliament and we, at Industry Canada, are assessing potential improvements in Canada' s patent laws.

At the same time, we' re going to have to join with our trading partners to develop better frameworks for combating theft of intellectual property.

Emerson's remarks require a couple of caveats.  First, there is much to like in the speech.  Emerson emphasizes education and research capacity.  He also notes the need for broadband access in all Canadian communities, acknowledging that there are hundreds of communities without access and that "we need to finish the job" of connectivity.

Second, the breadth of the Industry Canada mandate is remarkable.  Emerson touches on telecom policy, nanotechnology, university research and commercialization, copyright, patents, bankruptcy laws, competition policy, as well as a host of other programs and industrial sectors.  Given the enormity of the ministry, copyright (and Bill C-60) is a small piece of their overall puzzle.  This stands in stark contrast to Canadian Heritage, whose Minister treats Bill C-60 as a centerpiece of her mandate.

As for Emerson"s copyright remarks, the strong words ("destroy the incentive to create" or "combating theft") will be difficult for many who believed that Industry Canada would do more than just parrot lines from groups such as the Business Software Alliance.  Three paragraphs admittedly provides precious little space to provide a positive vision of copyright for Canada, but surely the Industry Minister could have done better that to suggest that Canada risks losing innovators to other jurisdictions without tougher IP laws, when adopting a made in Canada copyright solution has the benefit of making the country more attractive as a destination for cutting edge research.

If Emerson was going to use anyone's lines, he could have used Supreme Court Justice Binnie's remarks in Theberge that "excessive control by holders of copyrights and other forms of intellectual property may unduly limit the ability of the public domain to incorporate and embellish creative innovation in the long-term interests of society as a whole, or create practical obstacles to proper utilization."  

Alternatively, he could have set out his own vision for copyright.  He could have built on his support for education and research capacity by describing the need for copyright policies such as a national digital library or the abolition of crown copyright that fuel greater access to knowledge. He could have built on the need for connecting all Canadians by committing to copyright policies that support rather than hinder the use of those networks for training purposes.  He could have built on his support for greater innovation and commercialization by highlighting the need policies that do not use copyright as a barrier to innovation.

Earlier this week, Minister Emerson also spoke out on the softwood lumber dispute, advocating a tough stand against the U.S. for refusing to abide by the NAFTA panel decision.  Emerson recalled his days as a hockey player, noting that "when someone took you into the boards with undue force, you took their number."  Broadcasters and the education community have already taken the government's number on Bill C-60.  Without a positive vision of copyright in the public interest, millions of Canadians won' t be far behind.

One Comment

  1. “Worse still, these agents of innovation and creativity will quickly move to jurisdictions where intellectual property is protected and processes are in place to enforce it.”

    Guatemala, Samoa, and Honduras have gone to life+75. Colombia is life+80. Ivory Coast is life+99.

    Question: Are the tech sector, the book publishing trade, or the music business in Ivory Coast, Colombia, Samoa, Guatemala, or Honduras doing that much better than in Canada?

    Is there ANY empirical evidence to attribute, unambiguously, CAUSE (strong IP protection) to EFFECT (booming IP industries)?

    Conversely, is there any empirical evidence, or would there be if anyone looked, that would attribute CAUSE (booming IP industries) to EFFECT (strong IP protection) through the lobbying efforts of incumbent IP holders?

    Look at 19th-century history: France and Great Britain did not have successful authors, poets, and playwrights because these two countries were the epicentres of the International Copyright movement. Britain and France were the epicentre of the International Copyright movement because they already had successful authors, poets, and playwrights who were looking to cement their monopolies, and extend their geographical scope and temporal duration.