Canada’s Copyright Kyoto

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.


  1. President
    Any new legislation initiatives that may be considered must first address the single biggest issue with copyright law in Canada and that is lack of enforcement. Several years ago I informed law enforcement officials, the CRTC, and a number of publishing related agencies about copyright infringements that were being perpetrated by both Rogers and Bell Canada through some of the internet services they were offering their customers.

    What became clear was that there was/is absolutely no will on the part of any of these organizations or agencies to go after what were clearly high profile infringers. Even after evidence had been collected and a clear path of infringement had been established.

    Copyright abuse is so flagrant and common in Canada, that is seems to be treated as a national right of passage. We are on a par with the China’s and Brazil’s of the world. It is so culturally pervasive that you see senior film students using copyrighted audio material within their own works without even being aware that there is anything wrong with that.

    The only hope of copyright protection within Canada is U.S. prosecution of copyright abuse cases that result in imprisonment of Canadian citizens once they step on U.S. soil. We should thank our collective lucky stars that we have proxy enforcement of copyright, since we do not have any real copyright enforcement within Canada.

    There have been a mere handful of instances where law enforcement has acted to protect copyright abuse. Given the thousands of instances of abuse that occur every day, we should hear of at least a few prominent cases each year. In fact there have been fewer then a dozen such cases over the course of a decade or more.

    If it weren’t for U.S. prosecutors, the Conrad Black’s and Alan Eagleson’s of the Canadian sphere of influence would still be going about their merry way North of the 49th parallel. Canadian legal institutions appear not to have the spine needed to go after bigtime abusers. Until they do, new legislation will have little impact on protecting copyright holders. Were copyright infringement enforced as presently enshrined in law, the worth of intellectual property would increase by several orders of magnitude within our shores.

    Perhaps that’s what we’re really afraid of in Canada … allowing intellectual property owners of this nation and those that do business here to actually get paid for their work!

  2. Mario, you must work for the recording industry of Canada. I am sure you would like to see Canada’s legal system thrown into anarchy like what has happen in the U.S. with the lop-sided Digital Mellenium Copyright act. Let’s put 12 year olds in prison, and let’s allow the fat cat music industry to launch lawsuits against law abiding citizens! Wonderful!