A Little More Light

Barry Sookman is widely regarded as one of Canada's leading IT lawyers – for good reason given that he's the author of an important text on the area and has been actively involved in several Supreme Court of Canada cases.  Sookman and I have publicly debated one another in several fora, most recently on a DRM panel at the Future of Music Conference in Montreal (video here).  Today's Hill Times includes a column from Sookman titled Copyright Reform: Let the Light Shine In, which is framed as a reply to my Hill Times column on copyright and the environment.

While it won't come as a surprise that I disagree with much of what Sookman writes, that alone doesn't merit a follow-up posting.  

There are some comments that deserve a response – Sookman suggests that I engage in scaremongering when I call attention to the dangers to privacy and free speech posed by anti-circumvention legislation (obviously several of Canada's privacy commissioners disagree), yet it seems to me that scaremongering is an apt description for Sookman's piece.  A sample includes:

"unabated digital piracy in Canada will inevitably mean fewer jobs and slower economic growth here. Further, it threatens a loss of the cultural vitality that has become a source of great pride to Canadians through the strong presence of our writers, filmmakers and music artists on the world stage. If the fruit of a creators' hard work and ingenuity can be taken with the click of a mouse, then how long before that person gives up to get a 'paying job' to support himself or herself and his or her family?"


"By proposing a course that would distinguish Canada from the U.S., Prof. Geist effectively advocates Canada's continued isolation from almost the entire developed world and, in its place, alignment with 35,000 Swedish 'Pirate Party' voters."

It seems to me that is real scaremongering.  There is no evidence that there is unabated digital piracy in Canada – indeed, Canadian Heritage just reported remarkable growth for Canadian music.  Further, the notion that rejecting WIPO will place Canada in isolation from almost the entire developed world is simply untrue as the majority of our leading trading partners have yet to ratify the WIPO Internet Treaties.

It is the conclusion to the piece, however, that triggered this posting.  The end simply says:

Barry Sookman is a partner with McCarthy Tétrault, where he is the co-chair of its technology law group. He is an expert on information technology. Mr. Sookman wrote this piece not as the representant of any particular organization.

This is noteworthy not for what it says, but for what it does not say.  Sookman is also a registered lobbyist for CRIA and it is surprising that that position was not disclosed in a column on copyright that mimics many of the arguments made by CRIA and even cites with approval a CRIA-sponsored Pollara poll.  In fact, many of these same arguments were made by Sookman earlier this year to a gathering of government officials at a CRIA-led event in Ottawa.  This is all fair game as Sookman is obviously free to join his former law partner (CRIA President Graham Henderson) and associate (CRIA General Counsel Richard Pfohl) in supporting CRIA's copyright lobbying.  In doing so, however, it is difficult to understand why he chose not to let the light shine in on that relationship in the Hill Times piece.


  1. Win Media
    Hi Michael;

    …is there a non-Windows Media version of the videos, or can they be streamed from a link?

    The link provided appears to be Windows media and I don\\\’t see the media URL in the page, so as a Linux user…?


  2. It never ceases to ruffle me, when someone makes the claim that jobs will be lost to “digital piracy”. The fact is, and there are many references on the Internet, that when an artist locates to any given community, two to three new jobs are created. It’s time to hold the entertainment cartel to the fire, and have them address their jobs losses nonsense with real-world reality.

  3. Opinion 4 Hire
    Funny how whenever Mr. Sookman speaks more and more of what comes out is Motion Picture & Major Label industy “super speak rhetoric”. Mr. Sookman’s information about Europe is a legal load of crap. Will someone enlighten this man that precious FEW of ANY of the world’s powers – other than the USA and Japan – have actually signed onto the WIPO treaties. Yes Mr. Sookman, many are adjusting their domestic copyright laws to conform to the EU’s Information & Society Group [link: [ link ] ]but this is not AT ALL related to WIPO. WIPO is a separate organization entirely. Suppose after witnessing BIG Entertainment ramming the same lies to the press now for SO many years, even a bright guy like Mr. Sookman can become a sympathizer. Shame really. No one is going to argue that Canada’s doesn’t have some ‘gaps’ in our copyright legal framework respecting the digital domain Mr. Sookman… but enough about the economic impacts already, or didn’t you READ Canada’s most recent reports that the sector is doing quite o.k. and in fact profits (& employment!) is UP!!!

  4. transparency says:

    I don’t know Mr. Sookman personally and I am not aware of his reputation in IT law, but I think that by issuing his statements and hiding his relationship with Graham Henderson and CRIA, his act borders on unethical behaviour.

    Graham has clearly proven to the world that he lives in the middle of a reality distortion field. Obviously, he is aware that he has destroyed his personal credibility so now he is calling upon his peers, established in their profession due to age and experience, to repeat his mis-informed propaganda. I am just surpised that Mr. Sookman would take leave of his senses and damage his own credibility by repeating this obvious garbage.

    These \”old school boys\” just don\’t get that the world has changed. The CD and record company are no longer relevant at a time when the artist and music have become more popular than ever, but the methods of delivering music has fundamentally changed. iPod\’s success is undeniable. If the \”old school boys\” opened their brains a little, they would realize that the \”content generation\” wants their music, in what ever form, in what ever location, and they want it NOW. There is a business opportunity that is crying out to be monitized. The problem is, the \”old school boys\” are so hung up on CD\’s that they are blinded from the opportunity.

    Some of the smaller labels are starting to get it. Terry McBride is a giant amongst the puny old school brains, but Warner has taken a small step with their first agreements with the new content sharing sites.

    History will not be kind to Graham Henderson, CRIA and the current generation of major lablel CEOs, and likewise, Mr. Sookman\’s position on this issue will leave a blemish on his accomplishments as well. With friends like Graham, who needs enemies (LOL)

  5. Has the court considered what impact future technologies may have on any DRM law?

    Consider: with biological implants becoming more technologically feasible, soon it may be possible to augment human memory with silicon chips, as depicted in the sci-fi film \”Johnny Mnemonic\”.

    Would it be a copyright infringement to go to a movie with the ability to record your memories on non-biological media such as a hard drive that is implanted in the viewer? How about transferring said information to a separate storage device?

    While the above scenario is still in the realm of science fiction, technological advances are quickly bringing us closer to that reality. Bionic eyes and ears are already here, as are wearable computers. It is only a matter of time before we are able to augment memory with implants rather than external technology.

    The question then becomes one of the right to one\’s memories vs. copyright.

  6. Is this really so complicated? He wrote it on his own time. He wasn’t billing a client for it. So he said it was his opinion and not that of a client. I doubt Machiavellian manoeuvring or artful dodging are behind this. He doesn’t strike me as a stupid man, and anyone unaware of the online searchable lobbyist registration would indeed be stupid.