Quebec and Copyright

Today's Le Devoir features a noteworthy op-ed on copyright from many of Quebec's leading publishers.  The gist of the op-ed is that copyright is crucial to Quebec culture, the educational exception proposed by Canadian Ministers of Education would have a devastating effect on that culture, and the Conservatives seem ready to support the education exception without any public debate. 

Given the transparent efforts of the minority Conservatives to court the Quebec vote – this week alone Industry Minister Bernier gave two speeches in Montreal on economic development and the environment, while Heritage Minister Bev Oda opened an OAS conference on culture – it is worth considering how copyright reform will play in Quebec. 

The working assumption is generally that culture is major issue in Quebec, that copyright is viewed as an integral part of cultural policy, and that therefore stronger copyright laws are an election winner in the province.  Yet if the rumours about the contents of the forthcoming copyright bill are accurate, the Conservatives are about to fundamentally misread where the support for copyright reform lies.  The bill is likely to contain two pillars – anti-circumvention legislation and the education exception (there will obviously be other provisions but these are the two issues designed to address the loudest lobby groups, namely CRIA and CMEC).  Both issues are losers in Quebec.

Anti-circumvention legislation is primarily promoted by the movie and music industries. The movie industry's lobbyist – the CMPDA – is forthcoming in noting that it represents U.S. studio interests.  CRIA is less transparent about its support, yet the following exchange between CRIA President Graham Henderson and Commissioner Arpin at the CRTC earlier this year highlights CRIA's relationship with Quebec:

MR. HENDERSON: I think the situation in Quebec is measurably different.


MR. HENDERSON: I looked at the Commission's Public Notice in effect as a call to arms to English Canada, because the development of new and emerging talent in Quebec is substantial, significant, noticeable, measurable, everything, and we had not done that. So I feel that all of us on this side.

COMMISSIONER ARPIN: But your members' companies are trying to promote Canadian emerging and new artists all across the country.


COMMISSIONER ARPIN: Not only in nine of the provinces and three of the territories.

MR. HENDERSON: Our members? Well, in fact, in Quebec our members have very little involvement."

In fact, at the Future of Music Conference held in Montreal last month, it was readily apparent that the Quebec music scene is thriving with little desire for the use of DRM among its artists.  Moreover, Quebec was recently home to a Sony rootkit class action settlement and we should not forget that France has been a hotbed of grassroots criticism against the interoperability problems created by the combination of DRM and anti-circumvention legislation.  While the Quebec based collectives will undoubtedly support anti-circumvention legislation, this can hardly be counted as their issue (indeed, many collectives are troubled by CRIA's increasingly vocal opposition to the private copying levy).

The education exception issue is also a loser in Quebec.  Its Ministry of Education has never supported the change and now its publishing industry has vocally come out against it as well.  Throw in the opposition from a growing number of education groups and this issue is likely to cause the Conservatives considerable grief.

If a copyright bill is introduced along these lines, there is every reason to believe that all three opposition parties will oppose it.  The NDP will clearly oppose as they've moved strongly into recognizing the need for balance and have been critical of Canadian Heritage Minister Bev Oda.  The Liberals will be able to use the U.S.-style anti-circumvention legislation to argue that they proposed a more balanced approach under C-60 and thereby curry favour with the many groups seeking balance by opposing and offering a real alternative.  Meanwhile, the Bloc may also oppose the bill based on the education provisions that it will view as harmful to Quebec culture.  The result will be a mess, much like the Liberals faced last fall when it learned that C-60 was facing significant opposition from broadcasters, education, and the general public.

The way out of this mess?  Dropping the education exception but pushing forward with the copyright bill would force the Conservatives to backtrack on a core plank in their copyright policy and would alienate support from the nine other provinces.  Rather, the Le Devoir op-ed points in the right direction by noting that the government has not consulted on the education issue.  Instead of hurriedly introducing a bill that will leave everyone unhappy, the Conservatives would do far better to launch a consultation or commission (as Howard Knopf suggested this week) on copyright.  There may be value in looking decisive, but facing criticism from all three opposition parties in committee, in the House of Commons, and in the media will do little to help the Conservatives chances at a majority government.


  1. Crosbie Fitch says:

    Polarised Problem = Polarised Solution
    Polarised views, but one side has all the lobbying power and presents a Smirnoff style good/evil re-depiction of reality?

    Government needs both the industry’s money and the people’s vote.

    Any solution has to satisfy both sides, whilst letting the market decide who’s right (because the government must be seen to accede to industry – and the market is the industry’s preferred arbiter).

    So, reform copyright into such a duality:
    Good Copyright, Bad Copyright.

    If the market prefers strongly protected IP, that’s what it’ll choose, and vice versa.

  2. Crosbie Fitch says:

    Good Copyright, Bad Copyright
    [ link ]

    It seems HREFs aren’t accepted in comments…

  3. Russel McOrmond says:

    Who are the \\\\\\\”two sides\
    To “Crosbie Fitch”

    Who are the “two sides” you speak about on copyright.

    With CMEC vs. Copyright Collectives, I disagree with both and believe that a free market approach of moving to royalty-free methods of creation, distribution and funding (Open Access, Creative Commons, etc) is the best way forward for the educational community..

    I’m waiting to see if there will be a living “fair use” regime included, as called for by a wide variety of groups. If it adequately carves out time, space and device shifting, the DRM issue might be forced to disappear as science-fiction (You can’t have DRM that is both interoperable and protects the property/privacy rights of technology owners, and even if you could it wouldn’t be effective).

  4. Crosbie Fitch says:

    Control vs Culture
    The two sides are the desire to enjoy control by commerce (the content channel owners), and the desire to enjoy culture by the public (students, artists, audiences).

    The former know they have to extend their control against the rising tide of diffusion technologies.

    So we are now all publishers, now all artists, and now discovering that a law that was supposed to be in our favour is now against us, enslaving us, suspending our liberty to our own culture.

    You cannot fight commerce with a line in the sand. It needs to extend its dominion even into your private domain.

    However, have confidence that the cartel’s customers are not completely compliant.

    If you grant copyright holders ever more control, yet remove it by default, which artists would you rather patronise?

    Those who would imprison you for mere possession, or those who would restore your liberty to the culture that is your birthright?

    It isn’t possible to simply abolish copyright, nor simply to demonstrate it is ineffective. The people must reject it and understand why they do.

    They are not yet ready to reject it.

  5. It’s funny how they do not even mention the rest of the bill, and how the only way they can defend their argument is by using appeals not to rational reasonning but to passion.
    To suggest that, “once again”, Canada is going to use Quebec, and making a parallel between Quebec culture and Boreal Forest, is clearly an appeal to patriotism in order to make a point.
    Don’t get me wrong, I am a french Quebeker, but I find this type of arguing really disturbing.
    Not to mention the fact that they clearly point out that it is for education purposes, as if they supported a model based on which the rich schools get access to more culture than the others, kinda leaves a bitter taste in mouth.

    At least we might be lucky and end up like Europe with the EUCD directive, everybody is going to refuse it because they can’t find what they like in it.

  6. Diane MacTavish says:

    I do not appreciate
    cheating the artist one bit!