Where Do The Liberals Stand on Copyright?

Dan McTeague, the longtime Liberal MP for Pickering-Scarborough East, is best known for his Private Member's bill on tax-deductible RESPs that caused the government a fair share of heartburn and was ultimately not supported by his own party which did not want to risk an election on the issue.  McTeague has been a longtime advocate for many consumer issues, including campaigning against high gas prices and fighting for more consular support for Canadians abroad.  Notwithstanding this record, McTeague is rapidly emerging as a vocal voice on another issue – U.S.-style DMCA copyright reform.  Indeed, while McTeague may be the Liberal Party's Consumer Affairs critic, he is decidedly anti-consumer when it comes to the issue of copyright.

Last November, McTeague formed the Parliamentary IP Caucus, which has held regular, private meetings with those advocating tougher copyright reforms including the Canadian Manufacturing Assocation, CRIA favourite Deborah Spar, and ACTRA.  On the Industry Committee, where he sits as Vice-Chair, he pushed heavily for the anti-counterfeiting report that includes a WIPO ratification recommendation.  Yet McTeague's emergence as the new Sam Bulte only became crystal clear at a panel session I attended in Toronto yesterday on copyright and IP, which raises critical questions about where the Liberals stand on copyright.
The panel included representatives from CRIA, CMPDA, and the ESA, whose positions were no surprise (though the ESA waded into a net neutrality discussion by noting its conflicted position on the issue given that some of its members use of BitTorrent for distribution).  McTeague opened his remarks by calling on the government to act immediately on the copyright file.  He stated that his interest in the issue comes from the counterfeiting experience of Bayly Communications, a networking company in his riding.  The Canadian Anti-Counterfeiting Network cited Bayly in a 2006 report, where it stated that it found its products being copied in China and that "Bayly has been unable to identify the company in China that is manufacturing copies of its products or the markets in which they are being sold; the company simply does not have the resources to address
this serious threat to its business."

Interestingly, Bayly itself tells a somewhat different story.  In a February 2008 interview with Export Canada, Gary Johnson, Bayly Communication's Vice President of Sales and Marketing, reflected on the company's China experience.  When asked if going into the Chinese market was worth it, Johnson responded:

Oh, absolutely yes. When we went into China, we were selling in 25 countries. Bayly Equipment is now installed in telecom networks in over 67, and China is key to us today, and it was key in our experience in expanding globally. It really helped us, and is a constant reminder in the need to be properly prepared and to do our due-diligence going into these markets.

When asked about counterfeiting concerns, Johnson stated:

In the research we did subsequent to finding out that our product was copied, I found a report that showed that China wasn't number one of the Asian countries that copy. And as we got into counterfeit issues, it's not unique to Asia by any stretch. It's in Canada, it's in the U.S., it's in Latin America, it's everywhere. The extent to which it was there was quite something, but the fact that China wasn't the number one of the IP [intellectual property] theft countries, as rated by the article I read was quite interesting as well. We thought we were too small and too niche to be copied; I think China is probably overstated as a market where this could possibly happen. I think it can happen anywhere you go, and that's where the due-diligence is key. And there's been no evidence of copied product outside of China, and in fact it was only that one instance where we received that one back. They seemed to have been able to control what they were doing.

In other words, the company has faced some counterfeiting problems in China, none of which have harmed them outside that market, and the company views doing business in China as a key to its success.

I have absolutely no idea how this story provides the impetus for Canadian WIPO ratification, but McTeague is now quick to repeat the claims frequently promoted by groups like CRIA and CMPDA.  Over the course of the discussion, he:

  • strongly supported the property rights of IP holders with claims of theft being theft (the property rights of consumers apparently are less of a concern to the Liberal Consumer Affairs critic)
  • stated that Canada's international reputation has been harmed by its copyright laws (only the U.S. has been very vocal about the issue and the World Economic Forum recently ranked our IP laws ahead of both the U.S. and Japan)
  • claimed that since we signed the WIPO Internet treaties, we must now implement them (a position inconsistent with international law)
  • argued that we need to introduce the legislation and stop threats against MPs who support the legislation (presumably a reference to the Copyright MPs)
  • equated Canadian and Chinese counterfeiting by arguing that "we should clean up our backyard before lecturing others" (never mind that there is no credible evidence to support equating the two countries)

While McTeague is obviously entitled to his own views (though errors about copyright – he incorrectly claimed that commercial use was the litmus test for fair dealing – are a problem), I don't think that any MP, much less one focused on consumer affairs, should be so completely dismissive of consumer concerns.  Yet that was precisely what McTeague did, as his parting shot on the panel was to emphasize the need to restore Canada's international reputation and not be derailed by a "handful of individuals lobbying grenades into the policy process."  With all due respect, the tens of thousands of Canadians who have spoken out on the need for fair copyright are not a handful of people.  The musicians, film makers, educators, librarians, and businesses that have promoted balanced copyright are not lobbying hand grenades.  And the Supreme Court of Canada, which has ruled on the need for a balanced approach, is not seeking to derail the policy process.

I believe that McTeague is wrong on copyright policy and wrong about the copyright reform process.  As a new bill looms on the horizon (rumours have it coming before the summer break), the big question is whether his views are his alone or if represent those of his party.  If the latter, they represent a marked departure from the Liberals' previous Bill C-60 and open the door to significant public opposition on the issue.

Update: Further panel coverage from ITWorldCanada. 

Comments are closed.