The Return of Captain Copyright? CIPO Launches “Promoting Respect for IP Rights”

Longtime readers of this blog will recall Captain Copyright, the ill-fated Access Copyright copyright "education initiative" that was withdrawn in 2007 following intense criticism.  Copyright education initiatives have remained a focus of some rights groups, who believe that convincing kids of the value of copyright can lead to greater respect for copyright law.  In fact, in my earlier writing on copyright policy laundering, I noted that a consistent theme has been calls for the government to create and fund public education and awareness programs.

It now appears that the government is laying the foundation to do just that. The Canadian Intellectual Property Office, which falls under Industry Minister Tony Clement's mandate, has quietly launched a "Promoting Respect of Intellectual Property Rights" initiative that involves "exploring ways it can contribute more actively to promoting the respect of intellectual property rights." According to documents obtained from a source recently consulted by CIPO, it is starting the initiative by conducting a gap analysis to identify existing IPR respect promotion programs, key messages, and how CIPO might partner with these efforts.  The scope is described as follows:

CIPO's mission is to accelerate Canada's economic development by fostering the use of intellectual property systems and the exploitation of intellectual property (IP) information. The IP rights delivered by the Office enable its owner to profit from the creative endeavour. However, inventors and innovators will only avail themselves of the IP system if this value is respected, i.e., the greater the IPR is respected, the greater the value.

The focus for our IPR promotion work, we believe, will be on awareness-raising and educational programs highlighting the benefits to owners, economic development and Canadians at large, more so than the narrower concept of IPR enforcement. We define “respect of IPR” as: “Understanding what is IP, knowing of the existence of an IP right and affirmatively respecting that right.” 

CIPO then poses a series of questions to non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders.  These ask for details on any prior initiatives, target audiences, key messages, channels of communication, measurements of impact, success stories, partners, or other suggestions on how to promote respect for IP.

While intellectual property is important, the CIPO initiative (which is not yet public) raises some questions and alarm bells.  The first is the premise that inventors and innovators will only avail themselves of the IP system if IP is respected.  In fact, from a copyright law perspective, CIPO's role is largely irrelevant since creators need not do anything in order to avail themselves of protection (copyright protection does not require registration).  Moreover, the notion that "the greater the IPR is respected, the greater the value" is not necessarily the case.  Genuine promotion of respect for IPR must surely involve respect both for IP's breadth and its limits, yet most proposed education programs spend virtually no time discussing fair dealing, alternative licencing, etc.

This leads to a series of questions – will CIPO be including respect for fair dealing and user rights in its efforts to build respect for IP?  Does its outreach efforts include user groups who may promote respect for the balance in IP? Is there really a lack of respect for patents and trademarks in Canada or is this fundamentally about copyright? How many tax dollars does it intend to spend on these efforts?  Will CIPO open the process when it comes to considering who to fund or support?

Perhaps the biggest question mark, however, arises from the timing. With the government currently in the midst of a national copyright consultation (speak out today), it is odd to find the Industry Minister – one of the two key players in the consultation – effectively overseeing an initiative at CIPO that seems to have its mind made up about intellectual property.  The copyright consultation asks Canadians what changes would best foster innovation, creativity, competition and investment.  Yet a department within Industry Canada is working behind the scenes with the view that the answer lies in fostering greater respect for IP.  Given the recent history of one-sided copyright education campaigns, it seems more likely that CIPO's activities will undermine respect for the Minister's own copyright consultation.


  1. You have got it exactly right, Michael. We are completely justified in believing that the government’s mind is already made up.

  2. I hate that term
    “intellectual property” isn’t important, creators’ legislated rights are important (as are consumers’). “Intellectual property” is just a PR term to try to help make their “it’s stealing” theme easier to sell.

  3. Makes sense
    When trying to enact laws counter to the public’s normal behavior and
    ethical values (i.e. prohibition), it’s necissary to “convince”
    the public that what they do is “bad.”

    Adults don’t often see the government as a moral authority, so this only works on children.

  4. You have got it exactly right, Michael. We are completely justified in believing that the government’s mind is already made up.

  5. Based on what was written..
    it appears that the program will be one-sided. We’ll need to see when the final roll-out occurs. Any program like this needs to address both the rights, and responsibilities, of the IP owners as well as the IP user (for with rights comes responsibilities). To do anything else is not educational, it is propaganda and lends credibility to opinions of the government having its mind made up on the IP issue.

  6. Respect for the Law…
    …is the foundation of a safe society. But the best way to achieve that respect is by making sure that the Law is both fair and seen to be fair. There is some value in working on the latter, but only after achieving the former. If the “education” initiative is based on promoting the results of a consensus arising out of an open consultation process then it might not be such a bad idea. If it is perceived to be otherwise then it will actually undermine the respect that is seeks to achieve.

  7. Social Engineering Doesn’t Work
    There has yet to be proof that this type action is effective. Over the past 10 years Industry has tried to engineer the belief that P2P downloading is illegal, wrong, and theft. That hasn’t worked at all, and it won’t work now. This move by the government is purely based on lobbying and requests from American Industry who have failed to do this in the US.

    I agree with your statement the government has already made up his mind. After reading the transcripts, it sounds to me Clement is chewing gum half the time and not listening or not caring. One statement he made in Calgary “You can’t compete with free” is false and misleading. You can work with free to develop value chains to buy-in the consumer, that feel like free but are in fact paid for.

    That comment under-minds any understanding on what new business models are on the horizon right now, and completely a “copy-right” point of view and assertion, which is not based on fact.

  8. CIPO has too much time on its hands, too much money, and not enough policy smarts. A very dangerous combination.

  9. Maybe this is the type of initiative necessary to counter the ridiculous claims that file sharing is fair dealing. Michael are you capable of not being an over the top reactionary on these issues? Or have you succumbed to the fame of having ill-informed followers hanging on incendiery statements?

  10. Or maybe its just what it is.

  11. Scammy industries don’t deserve respect
    You won’t get respect by creating unjust laws. You won’t get respect by brainwashing children in schools. More and more parents are questioning what their children are being taught in schools and more will withdraw their children from schools to home-school them to avoid corporate propaganda and presence of corporations on school campuses.

  12. radiomother says:

    My most recent tweet
    Telus service terms: Section 13:Users grant Telus the right to use their content royalty free. Shades of Facebook-do people read these terms?

  13. Shudders to think of the next “Don’t copy that floppy” rap.