Prentice’s Failure to Communicate

Industry Minister Jim Prentice paid a visit to the University of Calgary on Friday to give a lecture at the law school on policy making.  In the question and answer period that followed, the majority of questions focused on copyright (Part One, Part Two) [update: The Distant  Librarian has posted a video of the full talk and Q&A period].  Prentice's responses provide five important insights:

First, despite the enormous opposition to a Canadian DMCA, Prentice continues to rely on a communication strategy based on tired claims about the WIPO Internet treaties and how copyright is a "framework" law in Canada.  A Canadian DMCA will face opposition from consumer groups, education groups, creator groups, and business groups.  Prentice is going to have come up with a much better communication strategy to justify a one-sided copyright law.

Second, Prentice will respond to concerns about the lack of consultation by claiming that there has been extensive consultation, pointing to the 2001 public consultation and several Parliamentary committee reports.  This claim does not withstand even mild scrutiny.  The 2001 consultation is seven years old – a lifetime ago from an Internet perspective.  Indeed, many of today's younger, new voters were only 11 years old at the time of that consultation (they were only six years old when the WIPO Treaties were concluded).  As for the committee reports, to my knowledge the Industry Committee has never held a hearing focused exclusively on the WIPO Internet treaties, though it has cited the issue in a pair of reports.  The Canadian Heritage Committee did devote one day to exclusively consider the WIPO Internet treaties in March 2004.  The sole witness?  Canadian Recording Industry Association General Counsel Richard Pfohl (WIPO was also part of the discussion in a further hearing in April 2004).

Third, Prentice clearly intends to ignore the Conservative government's commitment to hold a House of Commons debate on the WIPO Internet treaties before introducing copyright legislation. Prentice now claims that there are three steps involved – signing a treaty, changing domestic law, and then ratification.  He argues that the Conservative commitment will be met by holding the debate at step three.  This is a complete re-write of the policy that his cabinet colleague, Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier, announced two weeks ago.  That policy was clear that that the House of Commons debate comes before the introduction of new legislation.  In fact, it speaks of delaying legislation for 21 sitting days and points with approval to the UK and Australia where the treaty debate unquestionably comes before the changes to domestic law. 

Fourth, when confronted with the concerns of many groups about the absence of their issue from the new bill, Prentice will claim that he can't do it all in one bill and that there is a need for "ongoing dialogue."  This will not be good enough – the Industry Minister cannot simply say that the concerns of education, the concerns of consumers, the concerns of creators, the concerns of the Privacy Commissioner, and the concerns of business should take a back seat to the concerns of the U.S. government.

Fifth, in addressing questions posed by students, professors, and librarians (each are questioners in the video), he characterizes fair dealing as the "consumer side" of copyright policy that is a "challenging area that requires discussion."  Sorry Mr. Minister – fair dealing is a core concern for students, professors, and librarians not because of their consumer property rights but because this issue goes to the heart of Canadian education and research.  If you do not understand that, you do not understand the concerns with Canadian copyright reform.  Thousands of Canadian students are not looking further discussion – they're looking for actual support in the legislation.  If it's not there, Prentice, Prime Minister Harper, and the Conservative Copyright MPs are likely to face more than just polite questions from many concerned constituents.

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