Reliable sources report that the Canadian Labour Congress is set to consider a policy resolution that would dramatically alter its approach on copyright and intellectual property policy. The resolution will apparently be brought forward to the Congress Executive Council next Monday with the possibility of consideration by the full CLC Council immediately thereafter. It should be noted that the CLC has traditionally recognized the need for a balanced approach and that support for ratification of the WIPO Internet treaties comes primarily from U.S. pressure.
For example, consider the CLC's comments on IP policy within the context of the Security Prosperity Partnership with the United States and Mexico. Following the Montebello meeting in 2007, the CLC said the following:
In what appears to be a war against copyright infringement, Leaders have committed multiple law-enforcement agencies at different levels of government to collaborate on this apparently critical threat to North American competitiveness. The Action Strategy will depend upon the sharing of best practices from the private sector and “new innovative border enforcement techniques” to detect the trade in pirated and counterfeit goods within North America and arising from “third countries”.
Once again, we must ask why this issue has been raised as the focus of this highly militarized discourse and concerted effort on the part of industry and government security forces. The answer is that IPR protect business interests and the right of corporations to sell products. The increasing reliance on security forces, however, is not going to protect freedom of speech or nourish the creative spirit in North American communities by committing public support to cultural industries, schools for the creative arts, educational institutions. Nor have Leaders redoubled their efforts to ensure freedom of expression. Rather, as if they hadn’t already been granted more than enough protection from NAFTA, the largest corporations who own copyrights, trade marks, patents and claim protection for trade secrets will be able to count on the full support of state security forces to protect and extend their already extensive private property rights. As a society, Canada would benefit from an open debate on whether or not to strengthen IPR protections, especially when it comes to issues of social concern. For a society, it is not helpful for a debate over the production of knowledge wrapped in a discourse of criminality, piracy, theft and counterfeit as the NACC suggests. The issues of law-making and law enforcement should not be conflated in this way.
While some might quibble with some aspects of this statement, it is clear that the CLC recognizes the need for an open debate and the preservation of free expression. Yet the CLC proposed resolution reportedly states the following:
WHEREAS, counterfeiting and copyright piracy continue to harm Canadian workers. Counterfeiting and piracy – also known as intellectual property (IP) theft – cost the Canadian economy an estimated 22 billion dollars each year;
WHEREAS, IP theft also exacts an extensive human toll. IP theft robs Canadian workers of jobs and wages, as income that could have been used to expand the workforce or pay higher salaries is siphoned off to pad the coffers of international organized crime
WHEREAS, counterfeiting also poses a grave threat to the health and safety of Canadian workers;
WHEREAS, since counterfeiters and copyright pirates don't pay taxes, governments at all levels are deprived of tax revenues our workers rely on for vital services;
WHEREAS, the evidence that Canadian workers are harmed by IP theft is powerful;
WHEREAS, this critical issue requires a far-reaching response involving legislative and regulatory reform, policy change, and allocation of proper resources to combat the problems. The Canadian government must be given the structure and resources to mount a sustained attack on this pervasive problem, both within Canada and internationally. The criminal and civil laws in Canada must provide adequate deterrence. And consumers must be educated that counterfeiting and piracy are not victimless, nuisance crimes, but instead strike at the heart of our long term economic security;
WHEREAS, as unions representing thousands of these workers, we urge the Canadian Government and all Members of Parliament and the Senate to work together to pass comprehensive legislation and enact the policy changes that would bolster the ability to address this growing threat;
NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, accordingly, we urge the enactment of broad legislative measures that can really make a difference. Any such measures should include:
Amending the Copyright Act consistent with international standards to (i) conform with the World Intellectual Property Organization’s “Internet” Treaties and ratify the Treaties; (ii) enact a strong legal framework governing the responsibility and liability of online service providers that ensures they play a role in preventing copyright infringement, including providing rightsholders with an expeditious and effective means to stop the widespread dissemination of infringing material;
This is a remarkable about-face for the CLC, which would moves from an open discussion approach to quoting with support the counterfeiting claims that have no evidentiary basis, calling for the ratification of the WIPO Internet treaties that is strongly opposed by consumer and education groups, and moving toward the enforcement-based approach that they have long criticized. With only a few days left before this unbalanced resolution is considered, those concerned with the resolution should voice their views with the CLC.