Canadian Gov’t Pays Copyright Lobby to Lobby

While the Harper government last week passed accountability legislation in the House of Commons, my weekly Law Bytes column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) suggests that another form of lobbying exists that requires closer scrutiny – lobbying that is financed by the government itself.  According to government documents obtained under the Access to Information Act, last fall the Ministry of Canadian Heritage entered into a multi-year agreement with the Creators' Rights Alliance, a national coalition of artists groups and copyright collectives with members both small (the League of Canadian Poets) and large (SOCAN and Access Copyright).  The CRA has eight objectives, which notably include "to ensure that government policy and legislation recognize that copyright is fundamentally about the rights of creators" and "to ensure that international treaties and obligations to which Canada is signatory provide the strongest possible protection for the rights of creators."

The Canadian Heritage – CRA agreement, which could run until 2008 at a total cost of nearly $400,000, appears to be designed primarily to enable the CRA to lobby the government on copyright reform.  In return for $125,000 annually, the CRA provides the Ministry with its views on copyright in the form of comments, analysis or research papers (other deliverables include a policy conference, website communications, and a regular newsletter).

The contract raises several issues. First, there is some doubt that CRA is a group that needs government funding for lobbying purposes.  While several of its smaller members could undoubtedly use the support, larger collectives such as Access Copyright and SOCAN already employ external lobbyists with millions of dollars budgeted for copyright regulatory hearings and reform.

The structure of the contract itself appears to have raised some eyebrows within Canadian Heritage.  As the funding was being considered, an internal memo noted that the Copyright Policy Branch "would be funding an organization through this contract to provide comments on government policy. There is a concern that the Copyright Policy Branch would be setting an unwanted precedent in such matters." To address that issue, a different branch within the same Cultural Affairs department administers the contract.

Internal correspondence also reveals that the contract was designed to further the department's own policy objectives.  A senior official outlined the rationale behind the proposed contract, stating in an email that once the CRA funding was complete, "we should have streamlined, stable funding to an organization whose structure, purpose and activities suit our own policy needs."

Those activities were clearly identified in an email to Canadian Heritage from CRA's co-chair who commented that "the job of taking on the educational sector on copyright reform is clearly a huge and major undertaking," adding that education was a "well heeled, publicly funded lobby. . . devoted to abolishing creators' rights on the Internet."

The column concludes by arguing that given the need for the government to take all stakeholders into account, public financial support for groups that lack the resources to have their voice heard may be necessary.  A transparent program that would allow groups to apply for financial assistance would enhance the policy making process and would be consistent with the Conservatives' focus on accountability. The Canadian Heritage – CRA contract does not meet those standards of openness and accountability. If Canada is to achieve a balanced approach on copyright matters, policy makers must offer programs whose goals are not to advance a particular policy agenda, but rather to foster policies in the interests of all Canadians.


  1. Christopher Mercer says:

    Surly the Canadian government does not seriously think that industry groups represent the consumer! Personally I am sick of industry lobby groups who have the backing of large – or small – business. In the mean time civil groups get excluded from the lobby process. If the government is going to fund any lobby group it should be civil groups, not industry backed one. Such as the CRA!

    Accountability?!….. at least the liberals would have ignored this issue! *jokes*

  2. Bart Cormier says:

    This is bad news. So now Heritage has its own lobbyist lapdog to tell it things it needs to hear from an “independent” standpoint to justify its own policy choices? Where’s a penny-pinching Treasury Board official when you need one?

  3. Clarification… Alliance was formed und
    Clearly the right thing for Ms. Oda to do is to call for dismantling of this Alliance period. Just looking at their membership list online, it is obvious that regardless of size, all of these groups are well-established and highly-organized for the express purpose of lobbying.

    For certain this group was formed (indeed ‘hand picked’) by liberal copyrightright reformers. It is a travesty that hundreds thousands in dollars was advanced them under Ms. Frulla’s and Ms. Bulte’s oversight? This program of payments should be immediately disbanded and any leftover funds for 2006 should be returned to treasury.

    IF the government – the Harper government – really needs an advisory group beyond the huge number of well paid senior policy anlaysts in the heritage bureaucracy and the copyright policy branch that are there already and whose job it (already) is to work in the interest of “all Canadians”, THEN Ms. Oda and her copyright policy hunchos should look to Canada’s leading ‘thinkers’ in the subject area, those academics whose teaching and scope is “real time” and leading-edge-representative of Canada’s broadest possible cultural landscape, both in terms of creative ART and its merit, and in terms of the economic contribution of same, in aid of helping her along.

    In addition putting in place an “actual” citizen (public) process for providing input into the policy making process would be a gigantic positive step forward.

    So far they’ve (outwardly) got the right idea… understanding that Canadians want (& need) some semblance of Accountability from elected representatives. This is LONG overdue. But inwardly they need to put the idea in place. Accountability is not only for this ministry or another. It is a necessity for all of government at all levels.

    Mr. Harper needs to officially/formally establish for Canada a true government oversight process because to date such an entity does NOT exist. Be it a government accountability office (ministry in its own right, or agency/commission) whose job is ONLY to ensure ‘fair dealing’ in parliament, within ministries, and right on down to each and every project undertaking – like this CRA item – to ensure that every individual paid by Canadians is working in the interest of Canadians.

  4. Tim Wesson says:

    Money to Campain Against the Public Inte
    It appears quite disingenuous to argue that special attension and representation is required to counter acedemia. I suppose that after F Oberholzer-Gee and K Strumpf’s paper, and later Eric S. Boorstin’s, acedemics are presenting reality’s anti-copyright bias.

    To put industry opinion on a par with the state of research, and with those who have researched the fundementals of so-called “intellectual property” reveals a perculiar modern blindness.

    I expect that we’ll be seeing more of this kind of funding in future. In this world where all opinions are equal, all is politics, and there is no expertese.

  5. David Collier-Brown, davecb@sp says:

    They’re lobbying against authors
    These groups certainly do not represent me. I and my publisher, O’Reilly, discovered that making our technical books widely available electronically improved sales of the physical book.

    The same has been found by Baen books, except they are publishing their backlist of novels on CD.

    Nevertheless, the music and movie industries have convinced my putative representatives, the CRA to work to my direct disadvantage by trying to restrict electronic publications by “technologiocal means”.

    Bah, humbug!