Piracy Haven Label Case of Rhetoric Over Reality

In the wake of recent reports exposing the activities of former MP Rahim Jaffer, lobbying has been the talk of Ottawa for the past month.  The incident has had an immediate impact on lobbying regulations, with the Conservatives and Liberals jostling over who can introduce tougher disclosure measures. The changes may plug a few loopholes, yet the reality is that lobbying efforts are not always the subject of secretive meetings with high-level officials.

My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) considers the intensive lobbying effort on promised intellectual property reform.  In recent weeks, those efforts have escalated dramatically, with most activities taking place in plain view. Scarcely a week goes by without a major event occurring – last week it was a reception sponsored by the Canadian Private Copying Collective, the week before an event hosted by the Entertainment Software Association of Canada, and the week before that the Juno Awards attended by several cabinet ministers and MPs.

Even more open is the public campaign designed to persuade Canadians that their country is a piracy haven.  Late last month, the IFPI, which represents the global recording industry, released its annual Recording Industry in Numbers report that tracks global record sales.  The report targeted two countries – Canada and Spain – for declining sales and linked those declines to copyright law.  Not coincidentally, both countries are currently working on legal reforms.

The IFPI release succeeded in generating attention, but a closer look reveals that it put the spotlight on the wrong country.  Canadian sales declined 7.4 per cent last year.  That was bad news, but nearly identical to the global average of 7.2 per cent.  Moreover, the declines were far larger in both the United States (10.7 per cent) and Japan (10.8 per cent), yet neither of those countries was described in similarly negative terms.

The same week the U.S. government chimed in with its annual Special 301 report.  Often described as the global piracy list, the U.S. chose to lump Canada together with countries such as China and Russia as allegedly among the world's worst intellectual property offenders.

Rather than embarrassing Canadians, the list itself is increasingly viewed as the embarrassment.  This year's report ignored a submission from the world's largest technology and Internet companies (including Microsoft, Google, T-Mobile, Fujitsu, AMD, eBay, Intuit, Oracle, and Yahoo), which argued that it is completely inappropriate to place Canada on the list.

Moreover, the data suggests Canada is a leader, not a laggard. According to the software industry's own piracy numbers, Canada's piracy rate is declining and is dramatically lower than any other country on the priority watch list.  In fact, the Business Software Alliance has characterized Canada as a "low piracy country."

The news is similar with respect to movie piracy, where the motion picture industry has acknowledged that incidents of illegal camcording have dropped in Canada as the country is one of few in the world with criminal convictions for such activities.

The government has taken further action in recent months to combat infringement.  Although a new copyright bill is still a few weeks away, Canada recently amended its Proceeds of Crime regulations by removing the Copyright Act from the list.  Copyright lobby groups had requested the change to facilitate legal action against infringers.

While there remains further room for improvement, claims that Canada is a piracy haven are based largely on fiction rather than fact.  But with a major bill only weeks away, this form of lobbying seems certain to continue.


  1. Russell McOrmond says:

    Declining sales != losses due to infringement
    Any quick look at the methodologies used by these studies show that they don’t differentiate infringement, legitimate competition, and market failures in these studies.

    I could use these same numbers to “prove” that anti-interoperability locks on content (DRM) has reduced the value and thus sales of music. It is just as plausible, in fact more plausible, that the decline seen is as a result of DRM than it is a result of unauthorized non-commercial sharing of music.

    Then there is the “not for sale” problem. The fast majority of the infringements I bump into with friends and family are works that are simply not offered for sale (at all, in this country, and/or on devices people actually own). This infringement is not a substitution for a sale, but a substitution for not accessing the work at all.

  2. Laurel L. Russwurm says:

    Declining sales != losses due to DRM
    I’ll buy that… er I won’t buy that if it’s locked behind DRM. If we are shortly to have laws penalizing citizens for breaking the DRM on things we have legitimately purchased, why would would we purchase them?

    [I just returned an HD camcorder because the only way to get what I had recorded out was with proprietary software. Since one of the disks was missing that wasn’t possible. I even tried running it through the vhs>dvd burner I’d purchased to transfer home movies to DVDs but that wouldn’t do the job because that machine thought I was infringing copyright. I can live without an HD camcorder if all I can get is a machine crippled by DRM.]

  3. Hindgrinder says:

    “”Even more open is the public campaign designed to persuade Canadians that their country is a piracy haven.””

    Indeed. Imagine what will happen when those pirates start voting.

  4. Sebastian Bergmonn says:

    Yeah, I’m SB. So what?
    I bet Access Copyright has their Captain Copyright comic book ready to hit the kindergarten classes across Canada once again.

    The propaganda character sort of looks like Moore! Could it be?

  5. Balance
    It would great to have increased voter turnout, especially over the issue TPP focuses on. Can it cause the other parties to adopt them?

  6. Russell: Well put. Unfortunately the claim makes a great sound bite for the media, in particular television news.

    Laurel: You’ve just raised an interesting issue with respect to DRM regulations and the use of software to prevent IP infringement… the assumption, if the software doesn’t know any better, that you are violating IP. Imagine if you will the public uproar if the police employed the same methodology. “I am arresting you for murder; your spouse hasn’t been seen in weeks.” “But officer, my spouse has been deployed with the CF in A’stan for the last 2 months.”

  7. pat donovan says:

    grunt – ministry of truthiness
    we have always been at war with euroasia. Bad reporting makes the bisness good.

    fink-world is now a discredit society, and it’s death by gossip.

    NOW can we hand lie detectors on every TV?