Cause or Effect

With the Bulte story now a week old (I actually blogged about it nearly three weeks ago but it started to pick up steam on new years day), one might think that there is little else to say.  I think there is more because this incident is as much about how Canadian copyright law has been hijacked by the copyright industry lobby as it is about Ms. Bulte's puzzling inability to comprehend why so many Canadians are troubled by her January 19th fundraiser and her history of accepting copyright-backed cash while simultaneously playing a leading role on Canadian copyright policy.

The fallout continued over the weekend including another blog posting from Colby Cosh, coverage from Bourque, an "anti-endorsement" from Progressive Bloggers, emphasis on the issue from Bulte challenger Peggy Nash, and reference to the Bulte issue in a Don Martin column on Liberal misfortune in the National Post.  Throw in another BoingBoing posting and blog commentary here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here, you've got a story that is not going away.

Moreover, David Fewer, a counsel with CIPPIC and contributor to posted an intriguing piece on what might be described as the "making of a copyright politician."  Fewer tracks Bulte's campaign contributions dating back to her election as an MP in 1997. He notes that she received nothing from the copyright lobby during her first term and had little to say about the issue.  Suddenly in 2000, the money started flowing (including SOCAN, CMPDA, etc.) and Bulte emerged as a vocal advocate for stronger copyright reform.

Late Friday Bulte sent out a response to at least some constituents who expressed concern about the fundraiser.  I've received several copies (they are all the same right down to the identical typo).  In it, Bulte defends her actions, arguing that she "will never waiver [sic]" in her support for  the cultural community. 

I found parts of the response surprising for its commentary on Canadian copyright law.  Bulte says "Canadian copyright law ensures that you will be compensated for your creative works.  It also means that making unauthorized reproductions and computer hacking of copyrighted materials – like music, for example – is deemed illegal."  I don't know what Bulte is talking about with reference to computer hacking of copyright materials.  The Criminal Code includes provisions on the computer hacking, but those provisions have nothing to do with copyright.  If this is a reference to hacking technological protection measures, then Ms. Bulte is misinformed as Canadian copyright law does not address this issue and even Bill C-60 would only make such action an infringement (not illegal) if done for the purpose of copyright infringement. 

Bulte also seeks to defend her past fundraising, arguing that only 10 percent of her overall 2004 contributions came from the copyright and corporate sector.  This may be true, but consider again that (i) in most instances Bulte was the only Canadian MP to take money from these groups and (ii) look at who was doing the giving:

  • the publishing industry including Access Copyright, Association Of Canadian Publishers, Canadian Publisher's Council, McArthur & Company Publishing Limited, McGraw-Hill Ryerson Limited along with individuals such as Roanie Levy, Access Copyright's Director of Legal Services and Government Relations. The industry spent 2004 fighting for a new "extended licensing" system that would have forced schools to pay millions for accessing publicly available content on the Internet.  Bulte was a vocal supporter of the scheme, which was actively opposed by education groups from coast to coast.  How Bulte reconciles her opposition to the education community on this crucial issue with the Liberal party's recent emphasis on education would make for an interesting question at a candidates meeting.
  • the music and movie industries including collectives such as CMRRA and SOCAN as well as associations such as CFTPA.  These industries were lobbying hard for U.S. style DMCA legislation (including anti-circumenvention legislation and a notice and takedown system), an approach Bulte recommended her report.
  • the theatre industry including the Professional Association of Canadian Theatres and the Stratford Festival, who were arguing for an increase in federal funding for the arts.  The Liberal government committed to increased funding in 2005.
  • the photography industry, including the Professional Photographers of Canada, who were backing a Senate bill that would have granted photographers greater copyright rights over consumer commissioned photographs and raised privacy concerns
  • the copyright lobby's own lobbyists such as former MP Paul Bonwick, who sat on the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage with Ms. Bulte and before becoming a paid lobbyist for Access Copyright.

I think the record speaks for itself.  Whether this support is a function of cause (the support makes it more likely that Ms. Bulte will support these groups) or effect (the support comes because Ms. Bulte is supporting these groups) is immaterial.  What matters is that the copyright policy process has been tainted by the perception of cash for copyright.  Indeed, John Bowker, the owner of She Said Boom, a record store located in Bulte's Parkdale-High Park riding, sent me the following comments (posted with permission):

Notice how nearly all of the great Canadian releases from last year (by artists like Arcade Fire, New Pornographers, Broken Social Scene and Feist) were developed and produced within the independent scene, with little help from mainstream radio or major label promotion. But the new changes proposed for copyright reform could put us all under corporate influence.
Corporations should not be given the absolute power to regulate how Canadians enjoy their music. But thanks to Sarmite Bulte and her friends, we can expect the industry to:

install more invasive "anti-piracy" software on our computers;
restrict legal iPod use, and control how and where we enjoy music;
place punitive tariffs on new music uses and channels that don't serve corporate interests;
and restrict how music fans discover new music by controlling podcasts, music blogs and other legitimate fan activity on the internet (check SOCAN tariff 22)

Those of us who have worked hard to build strong bonds with music fans cannot afford to have these relationships controlled within a corporate model under Bulte's proposed changes. And since we lack the close relationship with Bulte's parliamentary committee apparently enjoyed by corporate lobbyists, we will be unable to compete on a level playing field.

I say again that it is time to clean up copyright.  It is time for Bulte to cancel the January 19th fundraiser and to take the copyright pledge.

Update: A full copy of the Bulte letter has been posted at, while Accordion Guy provides a visual take on the Bulte issue.

Update II: Fading Ways Records, an independent Canadian record label, has issued a scathing press release on the Bulte affair.  Meanwhile, IT Business carries a detailed feature article with comments from all sides.  The article includes with an interesting (if unlikely) possibility as Ms. Bulte indicated that she is willing to debate me in a public forum on copyright issues.  I would be delighted to do so – anytime, anywhere.


  1. Russell McOrmond says:

    Lies, damned liers, and Bulte
    It infuriates me when Bulte claims to be supportive of the cultural community. She supports the incumbent intermediary business associations, a group that is quite different than (and often opposed to) Canadian creators and the wider cultural community.

    I also believe we need to clarify the copyright pledge to include and/or specify Industry rather than Heritage. The Heritage Minister shouldn’t be involved in copyright policy at all, which as the various lobbiests listened to by government have proven is more about industrial policy than cultural policy.

    See: which reads:

    The “Copyright Pledge” focused on the Minister of Heritage, Parliamentary Secretaries to the Minister of Heritage, and Heritage Committee members.

    The Copyright Act lists the Minister of Industry as the Minister responsible for the act. The Minister of Heritage, Heritage Committee and Heritage department have been given excessive influence over copyright based on the claim that copyright is a form of cultural policy. If this were true, Heritage would not be directly responsible for specific incumbent (largely foreign) industry association interests being allowed to dominate the debate. Heritage is not equipped to deal with the economic issues that are brought before them, and have allowed false statistics and faith-based economic ideologies to direct policy. Heritage is also in a conflict of interest, given they fund a small subset of Canadian society that is affected by copyright.

    A pledge should include that Copyright be restored to being administered by the Industry Minister, Industry Committee and the Department of Industry. Adequate resources must to be allocated such that ICT, economic, competition and other Industrial policy analysis are included in any policy discussions. The pledge should be amended to specify also that the Industry Minister, committee members and parliamentary secretaries also not accept what will be seen as “influence peddling” from special interest groups.

  2. Musicians & Shareware
    Currently there is no way that a band can use internet to promote is music (via permitted downloads) that doesn’t automatically get people into hot water with the large recording labels.

    Musicians should be able to let the public know when its ok for them to download and listen to music before they purchase it. That is fair, since you need to know you like music before you buy otherwise you simply don’t buy any. There is a lot of music available, but at the same time not all of it is to you particular taste. I don’t want to have to pay for huge amounts of copyright, simply to decide 10% of that copyrighted material has a place in my life.

    The current copyright issues brought out by the large labels imply that ever having listened to their musicians is an act of piracy, whether or not you liked the music. That’s like saying that you can’t try out software before you buy it. To decide between several software authors you need to buy all of them, and only keep one. It’s an unfair responsibility on the purchaser; and I don’t enforce that sort of system on my customers, and most software developers accept that same policy. Demo’s, freeware, and shareware are options made available to the customer to “try before you buy”.

    The large recording labels seem to want to avoid the “shareware” approach to marketing their artists music, yet it works so well for selling software.

    There should be internet download sites that permit “shareware” style music, in which the artist/label permit people to “try before you buy” without threat of lawsuits by the RIAA. After all, we have “buyer beware” as a fundamental part of our law, yet the copyright rules to be put in place make it unlawful to even look into which copyrighted materials you want to buy, in a world that has more and more competition within that copyrgiht material.

  3. letter
    i also got the same letter and posted the full text at