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Ten More Questions for Industry Minister Prentice

Appeared in the Hill Times on May 26, 2008 as Ten More Questions for Industry Minister Prentice

Last fall, as Industry Minister Jim Prentice was preparing to introduce new copyright legislation, I wrote an article in the Hill Times posing ten questions to Prentice about the forthcoming bill. Many of the questions – which focused on issues such as flexibility in implementing international copyright treaties, concern about the bill from the privacy community, fears about the impact of the law on security research, and doubts about the constitutionality of the proposal – remain unanswered.  Yet the six-month copyright delay has raised many more questions, including the following ten:

1. Days before you were scheduled to introduce the copyright bill, you claimed that Canadian business executives were anxious for copyright reform.  In February 2008, however, the Business Coalition for Balanced Copyright, which features a who’s who of Canadian business (Telus, Rogers, Cogeco, SaskTel, MTS Allstream, Google, Yahoo, Retail Council of Canada, and Canadian Association of Broadcasters) spoke out against U.S.-style copyright legislation and in favour of an expanded fair dealing provision. Why is Canada's Industry Minister prepared to ignore the concerns of Canadian business?

2. In recent months countries such as New Zealand and Israel have enacted wide ranging copyright reforms that have either rejected the U.S. approach or included significant flexibility to preserve the copyright balance.  Why are those countries able to strike a balance in the face of U.S. pressure, yet Canada appears ready to cave to U.S. insistence that it follow its much-criticized model?  

3. There has been considerable speculation that the forthcoming bill will seek to drum up public support by including a "time shifting” provision to allow Canadians to legally record television shows.  Since Canadians increasingly record shows using digital recorders, users that circumvent digital locks on such shows (which are occasionally inserted by broadcasters and cable companies) will still run afoul of the law.  What is the value of "modernizing” the Copyright Act if the provisions are outdated before they are even introduced?

4. Earlier this year, the Conservative government established a new policy that commits to a 21 day House of Commons review period of any treaty prior to the introduction of any ratifying legislation.  That policy was recently followed with respect to the trade agreement between Canada and the European Free Trade Association. Why are you prepared to ignore that policy with the forthcoming copyright bill, which you have stated that it is designed to bring Canada into compliance with the World Intellectual Property Organization's Internet treaties?

5. Last December, you claimed that copyright reform was needed to address trading partner criticisms that characterize Canada as weak on copyright protection.  In recent weeks, the World Economic Forum ranked Canadian intellectual property protection ahead of the U.S., while Managing Intellectual Property, a respected international publication, placed Canada fourth among the G8 nations.  With global surveys refuting claims about "weak” Canadian laws, why have you not promoted the strength of Canadian law to our trading partners?

6. Several weeks after the initial decision to delay introducing copyright reform, the Federal Court of Appeal ruled that the private copying levy could not be applied to Apple iPods and other digital audio devices. Why has the government avoided addressing a private copying system that is clearly broken and that has cost Canadian consumers nearly a quarter of a billion dollars?

7. Rogers Wireless just announced that the Apple iPhone will make its long awaited debut in the Canadian market later this year.  Reports indicate that consumers worldwide have unlocked millions of iPhones to allow for greater functionality and more competitive wireless pricing.  Will the government to commit to ensuring that the new copyright bill will not render unlocking an iPhone an act of infringement nor prohibit the distribution of software programs that could be used to unlock these devices?

8. Liberal Industry critic Scott Brison has criticized the lack of public consultation on the forthcoming copyright bill, claiming that your approach has been "anything but transparent.” Brison's criticisms are consistent with comments from many copyright stakeholders who have still not had an opportunity to meet with you. Why has the government avoided hearing from all concerned stakeholders? Why is it prepared to move forward with legislation when it has been seven years since the last comprehensive copyright public consultation?

9. NDP digital copyright critic Charlie Angus recently raised concerns during Question Period regarding the potential for individual Canadians to face millions of dollars in liability for file sharing a collection of songs that sell for 99 cents each.  Given support from business groups for more "rational and effective enforcement” that limits damages in cases of minimal harm, why are you likely to ignore these concerns and leave the damages provisions untouched?

10. Earlier this month, librarians from the Library of Parliament told a Parliamentary Committee that copyright law could hinder Members of Parliament's ability to access and use library information.  The committee agreed to write a letter to you and Canadian Heritage Minister Josee Verner asking that you consider a special fair dealing exemption for Parliamentarians.  How do you plan to address this concern?  Will Parliamentarians enjoy greater access than ordinary Canadians, or will your legislation ensure that everyone is locked out?  

Michael Geist holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law. He can reached at or online at  


  1. the problem is…
    That Prentice is absolutely terrified of bringing out new copyright legislation. Or else “what is in it” would be known by now. He’s scared of the the document being pulled apart by it’s critics. He’s probably in fear of his American friends too.

    But there’s a group of people who should be worried, and I don’t know if they know to be worried. That’s all his party friends. I’m sure they have little or no idea how Prentice is going to put them out of jobs.

  2. ACTA
    This is just one step closer to George Orwell’s 1984, It’s an infringment on my personal rights to copy material from a legally purchased CD to another device for my own enjoyment. This is a slippery slope. How soon before we are told what we CAN copy or listen to?
    I’m sure the maunfacturers of personal recording devices are going to be thrilled to pieces, as are the makers of blank CD’s, DVD’s and video tapes. What about the major computer companies?
    Isn’t it a bit scary to think that a security guard can unilaterally decide if your personal device can be confiscated or destroyed? What if he’s having a bad day and feels like taking his frustrations out on somebody. Sounds like a police state to me!

  3. Anonymous says:

    I am so sick and tired of BIG Self Serving Corporations / Business gobbling-up every last bit of personal rights and choices. Will the day come when a weekly library user will be refused his or her 8-10 books, because of frequenting the library too often?

    I\’d love for these politicians to purchase a car capable of doing 100km/h, only to discover its been rigged to do 50km/h.

  4. tories-do-vex-me says:

    Another “Made in Corp. USA” Bill
    I have sent a letter to the Minister (Jim Prentice) including Mr. Geist’s well-worded questions, and with the following comments. Spread the word..all you thumb-straining texters out there…send a note to the minister of Industry at: and tell him where he can file his bill. If they weren’t so dangerous they would be laughable (the current government).
    “Mr. Prentice:
    “Please answer the following questions, and allow Canadians (you remember us…we’re the ones who pay your salary !) the opportunity for public consultation regarding this bogus, made in the USA, “police state” bill. Mr. Prentice, if you think Canadians are going to let this bill fly without a fight, you need to wake up and charge your ipod. What’s next..?? Will big brother be censoring our e-mails when we send messages outlining what colossal knobs the Tories are.
    Why don’t you take all the time and money and resources that have gone into chasing down teenagers for sharing music files, and put it into apprehending REAL criminals…like Internet child pornographers, and on-line perpetrators of hate crimes.
    It occurred to me that this might be THE ONE issue that will get complacent 19 year olds away from their PC’s and into the polling stations….and I think I can safely assure you that their X WON’T be going to their local tory candidate. Almost makes this bill worthwhile.”

    Don’t let the tories turn the internet into a police state.

  5. RE: Another “Made in Corp. USA” Bill
    Way to politicize what should be a non-partisan issue to all Canadians, tories-do-vex-me.
    Please avoid getting thrown to the Minister’s bit-bucket by writing a respectable letter, not a hurried text-message complete with unoriginal blog-spam ripped from the pages of Micheal Geist!

    (not that is just any blog, thanks for doing what you do)

    This issue is too important to our future to waste it on yet another dull chance to belittle “tories”.