The Liberal Party has provided a helpful reminder about why we need a fair use right under Canadian copyright law. The Liberals have called on the Conservatives to withdraw an advertisement titled Even Liberals (currently the top link at the video portion of the party's site) because of copyright infringement. The ad features about a two second clip of Paul Martin at a CBC town hall meeting. The Liberals argue that the use of the clip infringes CBC's copyright and that the Conservatives did not obtain the broadcaster's permission.
Leaving aside the surprise that the Liberals are concerned with an alleged infringement of someone else's copyright, the claim (which the Conservatives dispute) highlights why we need a fair use right in Canada. If the CBC challenged them for failing to obtain prior permission, I think the Conservatives could try to raise fair dealing defences for the use of the short clip based on criticism and news reporting. That said, the notion that there should be legal uncertainty about the use of a tiny clip of a town hall meeting during an election is simply bad policy. It is unfortunate that copyright is being used here to chill political speech, rather than to meet the law's twin purposes of creator and user rights. When copyright law is used to do that, the appropriate response is not to change the commercial. The right response is to change the law.