The Canadian Heritage Parliamentary Committee has received two briefings on copyright from department officials in recent weeks. The first briefing was "copyright 101" briefing. The second briefing, focusing on future reform plans, was more interesting. The officials did their best to say as little as possible – when questioned about timing or specific issues, they found multiple ways to avoid directly answering the question. There were, however, several noteworthy exchanges including a moment when Charlie Angus (NDP) noted that many countries have yet to ratify WIPO (as opposed to the "coalition of the digital willing" that includes Azerbaijan and Botswana), and Danielle Bouvet from Heritage responded with obligatory "Canada is trying to have its own made-in-Canada legislation on copyright." Further, Mauril Belanger (Liberal) spent a lot of time asking about the lobby groups who are asking questions about copyright and asked for a list of all groups that have met with Canadian Heritage and Industry Canada since January.
More troubling were two exchanges that may not have provided the MPs with a fully accurate sense of the law.
First, Mako Kotto (Bloc) asked about the impact of the UNESCO culture treaty and its impact on Canadian copyright policy. In particular, he asked if the UNESCO Treaty took effect next year "would it be problematic that Canada is lagging behind in the field of copyright, in spite of having signed two treaties in 1996?" Bouvet responded that "were the requisite support level for implementation [of UNESCO] to be achieved, this Convention would have to be considered in the context of the two international WIPO treaties." She later continued by noting that Canadian Heritage Minister Oda "has already announced that she wants to act as quickly as possible to ensure that our Act complies with our international obligations."
I find these responses rather misleading. The UNESCO Convention would be considered in the context of the WIPO Treaties for those countries that are part of the WIPO Treaty. Since Canada has not yet ratified, a more appropriate response would have been to advise Kotto that there is no conflict with being a ratifying country of UNESCO but not WIPO. Moreover, it is worth reiterating that Canada does not have any international obligations with respect to WIPO and Oda's remarks should not be taken to suggest that we must reform the Copyright Act to comply with WIPO in order to meet these non-existent obligations.
Second, Jim Abbott (Conservative) asked a straightforward question about private copying –
"Am I further correct that if we were to do the changes envisioned under WIPO ratification, we would suddenly see a gigantic, gaping hole in that revenue, and the giant sucking sound would be the money leaving Canada, going to the various collectives or artists or whoever they are in the States and in other countries?"
Bouvet responded "no" and proceeded to dance around the question by trying to distinguish between implementation and ratification of WIPO. Yet Abbott did not ask about implementation. He asked about ratification and he deserved a more accurate response.
The hearing transcript provides a good sense of where some of the MPs sit on these issues with Angus at one of the spectrum and Conservative Ed Fast ("it seems to me the message that we've sent to children across Canada, actually to all Canadians, is that the issue of ownership of intellectual property is not a high priority for this government. Canadians, in turn, act in a manner consistent with that approach. I find it disconcerting to find young people ripping CDs, downloading music on the Internet, plagiarizing in universities and in high schools. My fear is that we're developing a culture of disrespect for property rights, disrespect for a culture of law in Canada, and the longer this drags on the greater that problem will get.") on the other. Regardless of where the MPs stand on the issues, it is the responsibility of government officials to provide them with an unbiased, accurate depiction of the law and policy. I'm not convinced they received that during this briefing.