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. 


  1. Thank you
    I assumed the Liberals had my back on this one. Which, now that it’s pointed out to me, is utterly stupid. Thanks for the important correction.

  2. Not advocating free food for everyone doesn\\\’t make you anti-consumer

  3. …but telling everyone they have to eat the bread, not toast it, make bread pudding, or give away or sell either the individual slices or the remixed sandwiches of the loaf they bought WOULD be anti-consumer.

  4. Crosbie Fitch says:

    Cultural Liberty
    Given that copyright is a mercantile privilege created to benefit publishers by suspending everyone’s natural right to exchange and build upon cultural works through the act of copying and derivation, it is inescapable to conclude that the liberal position on copyright must be to abolish it.

    Or, perhaps, liberals are libertarians who believe some liberties of the public must be suspended for their own good?

    “If we suspend your cultural freedom, you will benefit from a far richer culture given that publishers can then commercially exploit the constraints against you exchanging or building upon their published works”

    Copyright is an anachronism from less liberal times and way overdue for abolition.

  5. Say what you mean!
    Oh, don’t be shy, Mike. What you mean is that because they didn’t advocate free access to everything for everybody all the time, they can be disregarded. Liberals be damned! Tories too! You’ll only be happy when there’s been a ritual burning of the Copyright Act on the front lawn of the Centre Block … right? You’ve already come out for unlimited copying of works by consumers with no compensation to creators or owners. So why maintain the fig leav any longer? Say what you mean! Coyness is unbecoming a man who sports both a long and a short version of his biography on his website. Your acolytes are already urging this … just read their comments. Mount that horse, Prof! Lead the masses to a glorious tomorrow! You can do it, fella!

  6. El Quintron says:

    Discourse not flames
    Although, I support the right of an artist to sell content to make money. I don’t support the corporate structure surrounding it.

    For example an artist selling tracks on iTunes keeps anywhere from 85 to 100% of the profits, an artist on a major label gets to keep 22 cents of every CD sold, after they’ve paid their expenses to the publisher.

    These publishers are the ones screaming about copyright. They are the one dictating this whole creative industry.

    Does anyone want to continue supporting this system?

    My other issue is this, the law even if applied will never get all pirates, and usually you’re only going to be able to get 13 year olds using their guardian’s computers.

    Most of the intermediate users (BT via proxy, peersafe, peerguard etc) will go unprosecuted because of the ease of getting prosecutions and admissions of guilt from the former.

    Once again is this a legal framework you want to support?

    These are the types of questions we should be asking ourselves, (whether you agree with me or not)

    People insterested in the (in)justice of current copyright law, should be discussing alternative that protect provider and consumer.

    Not to mention alternative revenue streams as we move towards different business models for artists.

  7. It’s becoming pretty typical of the politicians to simply demand to use copyright to remove all free software and culture from the world, and to use it exclusively to make money for foreign corporations.

    Copyrights are obsolete, and have been for some time. They simply don’t address the speed at which things are created and distributed via internet, without physical boundaries, and a lot of people creating things more efficiently and effectively than the old corporate world can keep up with.

    Culture used to be something that lasted for years, or centuries. Now it is on youtube quickly, and forgotten quickly. The old world paid content has to compete with that, and finds it can’t, and now uses old world copyright to try to undo the entirety of the internet.

    Those days are gone, and there are many things being created by more people to a wider audience than ever before. It’s a system that thrives with fewer shackles, rather than more.

    It’s also astonishing that our political “leaders” seem to think that any sort of network neutrality legislation is bad, since they want the marketplace to police itself. Yet, for copyright they use the opposite rule. In both cases, corporations win at the expense of the average consumer.

  8. free market says:

    @El Quintron
    Actually an artist gets only 14% selling trough iTunes vs 10% selling a CD in the traditional way. The large part of a CD cost is marketing and overhead. An iTune track profit is so divided: 14% artist, 30% iTune, 56% Label. Merchants such as iTunes and the music labels are eating most of the cake although overhead and distribution costs are almost null. The only way artists could make money out of this is to become entrepreneurs and sell tunes directly by themselves without selling their souls to those pimps. Eventually that day will come. Long life to the artists and extinction for the record industry.

  9. Copyright and Communism
    Why do all copyright info websites never mention the link between copyright laws and communism? After all copyright law is just government intrusion in business. Communist unions moved into control America’s mass communication industry in the early years of Movie and TV. Now we have to wait at least a month for the movie to go to the theatre befor it is released as a DVD. Without copyright protection the movie theatre industry would have to compete with the DVD. We would have better quality and more art and entertainment. To bad Right Wing America takes a blind eye approach to it. My guess is they are so greedy that they sacrafice God and Country for royalties. In the long run right wing would profit more from the competition created without goverment protecting a few songs and cartoons. As for the movie theatre industry they could build futuristic theatres that offer more than popcorn and cola.

  10. El Quintron says:

    @free market
    Thank you for correcting figures for iTunes.

    I was assuming you would be selling your independant music on iTune not from a major label.

    Nonetheless similar music sites have shown how labels are losing relevancy, not to mention the fact that you can give away your music for free, sell merchandise and put advertising on your site, and you would stand to make as much money as being on a major label.

    We wouldn’t even have this conundrum if legislators understood the dynamics of modern content delivery.

  11. counterfeiting
    Counting Lieberals to fight theft? You have to be kidding. This is a joke, right? Where\’s the hidden camera?

  12. Monopoly = Communism
    Copyrights are used to empower monopolies. Communism is a government monopoly and it is bad as a business monopoly in the hands of few corporations. Communism and capitalism at their extreme are just the same entities using corruption and craving for power. We the average citizens are just expendable.

  13. I’ll do what I want with my property, t
    Not advocating free food for everyone doesn’t make you anti-consumer

    But making someone a criminal for playing their legally purchased DVD on their legally purchased Linux based computer system is anti-consumer. And that’s one of the perversities of the abominable US DMCA. Sorry, if enacting a US style DMCA in Canada is something a Liberal government would do, then I can’t vote Liberal in the next election. I value property rights too highly.

  14. Jim – and this is the root problem with the Copyright MP vendetta – it reduces political support to a single issue, and really not the most important one. Will you vote for a party that has a copyright agenda you like but is (say) anti-immigrant and anti-abortion?

  15. McTeague? No Surprise
    It shouldn’t come as a surprise that McTeague would take a position in line with U.S. policy. He participated in a meeting (in D.C.) between himself, other Canadian representatives and U.S. officials, with the explicit intent of derailing his own government’s attempts to liberalize the cannabis laws in Canada, working behind the scenes, with a foreign government, to subvert the efforts of his own party in parliament.

    While he comes across – sometimes – as the paragon of virtue on behalf of Canadian citizens – he is, no less than Bulte, firmly in the pocket of U.S. policy advocates.

    Odd comments on the blog today; trolls like “Observer”, and people equating copyright to Communism. Where the heck did these wackos come from?

  17. Single Issue Voting
    Well I didn’t say I would vote for the anti-motherhood-and-apple-pie (to borrow an Americanism) party if I like it’s position on intellectual property. However, I did keep my words brief, so I’ll elaborate now. In all likelihood I would normally vote Conservative or Liberal. However, I do consider the IP battle to be important for a number of reasons (better explained by Michael Geist and others, than I could). Since when you get right down to it, there aren’t *that many* differences between the Liberals and Conservatives once they get into power I believe I can rule out one or the other (or both – I can stay home on voting day) on the basis of their positions on one or 2 issues that are important to me personally. And this one is important to me.

    I work in the computer field (software development) and I just shake my head in disbelief on the way patents are being granted, used, and abused in that area. It’s mind boggling how in the US, patents are being used not to increase innovation, as was their original intent, but to actually stifle competition and innovation. Patent trolls suck money out of companies that are actually producing something; submarine patents torpedo standards that are supposed to make things better for everyone; business method patents result in a patent on a well established method by doing little more than adding the words “over a network”; ridiculous patents like the infamous Amazon one-click patent are granted; etc, etc, etc. The notion of the government granting a monopoly to a person or company for an *idea*, or a truth, if you will, is bizarre at best (although likely a necessary evil in some high cost areas like pharmaceuticals), but what we have now in the US is basically a system run wild way beyond what the framers of the system could ever have imagined.

    And getting back to the DMCA, it is nothing less than legislation that takes a broken system and breaks it quite a bit further. So, yes, I strongly oppose seeing DMCA legislation in Canada, and will not knowingly vote for a party that intends to bring it in.

    And despite what I said above, this may mean that rather than staying at home on voting day, I’ll indulge in the meaningless, but mildly satisfying, act of spoiling my ballot.

    That’s my 2 cents. YMMV.

  18. I don\’t really understand why any MP would support of DMCA type bill. All they have to do is Google it and do a little research and you can see the hand full of PROs is clearly overbalanced by the shear number of CONs. Only thing the DMCA has done is allowed the RIAA to extort people over the internet to make a quick buck(at the expense of the legal system and there tax payers). Scare tactics are not gonna stop the internet from doing what it wants… For what purpose other then to make money grabs in the name of lost profits to the artists, well never giving a cent to the artists. Snoop Dogg once said \”When people are not downloading your music then you have a problem\” and that was long before Itunes and the legal services came out.

    Step 1:Lobby DMCA into law
    Step 2:Increase copyright terms to 250 years
    Step 3:Long term Profit in the digital age!

    Who needs public domain/fair dealing/privacy anyway…

  19. I can has libdvdcss?
    \”But making someone a criminal for playing their legally purchased DVD on their legally purchased Linux based computer system is anti-consumer.\”

    I\’m glad I\’m not the only one with that specific problem. I\’ve mailed a few MPs who are vocal about \’toughening\’ Canada\’s copyright laws asking them questions about the legality of using open-source software to play DVDs and some CDs, just to see if I can get an answer.

    I haven\’t done much illegal downloading (I generally download what I already own, or buy what I\’ve downloaded) so it really bugs me that I could potentially be dragged into court for \”stealing\” or bypassing the code that people need to decrypt a legally purchased DVD on an open-source system!

    It looks like I\’m going to need a lawyer to enjoy a copyrighted work. But I can\’t afford that, so instead I\’ve been trying to stop supporting artists and companies who go to extremes to enforce their copyrights. That RIAA Radar website has come in handy.

    I feel for anyone who works with computers these days.. you practically need a law degree.

  20. I can has libdvdcss?
    “But making someone a criminal for playing their legally purchased DVD on their legally purchased Linux based computer system is anti-consumer.“

    I’m glad I’m not the only one with that specific problem. I’ve mailed a few MPs who are vocal about toughening Canada`s copyright laws asking them questions about the legality of using open-source software to play DVDs and some CDs, just to see if I can get an answer.

    I haven`t done much illegal downloading (I generally download what I already own, or buy what I`ve downloaded) so it really bugs me that I could potentially be dragged into court for `stealing` or bypassing the code that people need to decrypt a legally purchased DVD on an open-source system!

    It looks like I`m going to need a lawyer to enjoy a copyrighted work. But I can`t afford that, so instead I`ve been trying to stop supporting artists and companies who go to extremes to enforce their copyrights. That RIAA Radar website has come in handy.

    I feel for anyone who works with computers these days.. you practically need a law degree.

  21. Scott Tribe says:

    The Liberal’s official stance
    Hi folks:

    Let’s not jump to conclusions here – the Liberal caucus us diverse and the Liberals span a wide rand of the ideological spectrum, so it doesn’t surprise me there are MP’s there that hold views like McTeague does. The question is, as Professor Geist puts it, what the official Liberal view on Copyright law is.

    We need to be finding that out by writing a few Liberal leaders, methinks.

  22. Scott is right says:

    Scott is right
    Anyone with a Liberal MP should write to that Liberal MP (just your own, just the one who represents YOUR riding).

    You should:

    (A) State your demands for what Copyright Law should be

    (B) State that you disagree with Dan McTeague’s position on Copyright Law

    (C) Ask your MP to side with you, not Dan McTeague.

    If you do not know who your MP is, you can find out by using your postal code:

    [ link ]

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