John Ibbitson of the Globe and Mail has a column today (
unfortunately behind a paywall) on the copyright issue. The column gets many of the issues right – the complexity of the file, the likelihood of greater U.S. pressure, and the fact that Canada is a net importer of cultural goods. The piece also contains a couple of newsworthy tidbids including word that Industry Minister Bernier and Canadian Heritage Minister Oda met last week to work out a final agreement on a copyright bill but failed to do so. It also confirms that U.S. Ambassador Wilkins recently sent a "stern letter" to Prime Minister Harper on intellectual property enforcement.
That said, it gets several things wrong. First, Ibbitson says the issue boils down to:
Copyright owners, from garage bands to Disney, want strict prohibitions on practices and technologies that allow people to record, copy and download copyrighted works without paying for them. Their champion is the Heritage Minister. The Industry Minister, however, represents the ordinary user, the educator, the entrepreneur, who wants the greatest possible latitude in exploiting the knowledge and information available on discs, the Web and in databases.
Ibbitson gets it half-right.
Industry Canada is traditionally seen as supportive of the interests users, educators, and innovation. However, the notion is copyright owners from garage bands to Disney want anti-circumvention legislation is plainly wrong. Canada's musicians, artists, and documentary film makers – the Canadian copyright owners – have publicly rejected the need for anti-circumvention legislation and have asked the government to instead focus on fair use.
Second, the characterization of the copyright issue as equivalent to Kyoto fails to appreciate the difference between signing and ratifying a treaty. Signing a treaty (which Canada has done with the WIPO Internet treaties) carries no further obligations as it is best seen as a supportive gesture. Ratification (which Canada has done with Kyoto) carries the specific obligations found in the treaty. While it makes for a nice soundbite, the reality is that Canada is compliant with its international copyright obligations. It is simply wrong to say, as Ibbitson does, that "this country has been trying, without success, to bring its copyright laws into compliance with those of other developed states."
Third, Ibbitson chalks up the current inaction to "the price Canada pays for perpetual minority government." With respect, this is nonsense. Canada's deliberate approach on copyright reflects the growing international conviction that the WIPO Internet treaties do more harm than good, our position as a copyright importer, the Supreme Court of Canada's clear vision of balance for copyright, and a policy system that contains checks and balances between Heritage and Industry. There are differences between the parties, but a bill that gets the balance right would likely receive support in the House of Commons.
Ibbitson concludes by saying that "what should matter to all of us, though, is Canada's reputation before the world." I agree. We have a choice of earning a reputation for implementing a copyright system that truly reflects our national interest and the need for a balanced, forward looking approach. Alternatively, we can gain the reputation of caving to U.S. governmental and lobbying pressure on a critical Canadian cultural and economic issue. That choice should matter to all of us.