Industry Minister Jim Prentice appeared on CBC's Biznet (RAM file) this morning to talk copyright. As Prentice talked about companies who "intellectualize property" and copyright as "a fascinating issue and a fascinating piece of legislation," he did not reveal much about the forthcoming bill. Instead, he relied on the same talking points that he has raised in the past – WIPO ratification, criticism from trading partners (ie. the U.S.), and business wants this law. Given that these arguments are easily countered, the government either needs a new communication strategy or a new copyright bill. Hopefully, it will be the latter.
Regardless, the remarks make it clear that Prentice is currently not inclined to consult the public before introducing the Canadian DMCA. Instead, he will leave it to a parliamentary committee, which he said will engage in "extensive discussions about all of these issues." Of course, this approach will help lock in the bill since unless it is sent to committee after first reading, there are significant restrictions on potential changes. For example, if the bill does not address fair dealing, then no alteration of the fair dealing provision would be permitted. Moreover, unless the committee undertakes to conduct national hearings and to find a mechanism to hear from the tens of thousands of Canadians that have spoken out on the bill, the danger with this approach is that the usual copyright lobby groups will dominate the debate.
Every bill needs an open, transparent committee review. Given the concerns associated with a Canadian DMCA, that alone is not good enough. Canadians needs assurances that the government will adopt a balanced, fair approach to copyright that avoids the consequences of the DMCA and they need to have their voices heard as input into the bill itself. Prentice cannot punt that to a committee – it is his responsibility as the public will hold him accountable and will be looking for more than tired talking points on an issue that even he acknowledges affects millions of Canadians.