The Canadian Thanksgiving weekend featured escalating rhetoric over the government’s proposed copyright exception for political advertising with claims of fascism, censorship, expropriation, and more. The commentary bears almost no relationship to reality. The truth is that the government and the broadcasters both agree that the current law already permits use without authorization. For all the claims of “theft”, the copyright owner (broadcasters) and user (political parties) both agree that the works can be used without further permission or payment. As Ariel Katz points out this morning, the bigger issue may well be whether Canada’s broadcasters violated the Competition Act by conspiring to not air perfectly lawful political advertisements.
Archive for October, 2014
Broadcaster Copyright Misuse and Collusion?: Why Criticism Over the Government’s Political Ad Copyright Exception May Be Pointed in the Wrong Direction
Appeared in the Toronto Star on October 11, 2014 as Federal Proposal to Loosen Copyright Law for Political Advertising Falls Flat Reports surfaced last week that the federal government plans to introduce a new copyright exception for political advertising within a forthcoming budget bill. The provision would allow politicians and […]
The Government’s Political Advertising Copyright Exception: Fine Print Shows Proposal Privileges Politicians’ Speech Rights Over the Public
Last night I posted on reports that the Canadian government is considering a new copyright exception for political advertising. While many have been harshly critical of the plans, I’ve noted that political speech is critically important and that copyright law should not be used to stifle it. My post argues that the law may already cover some of the uses and that if changes are needed, a better approach would be to adopt a fair use provision in Canada.
I have now obtained a copy of the document that was presented by the Minister of Canadian Heritage. The document is obviously consistent with the media reports, but provides significantly more detail and raises several additional questions and concerns.
Why Isn’t Fair Dealing Enough?: Government Considering Copyright Exception to Cover Political Advertising
Reports from CTV and the Globe and Mail indicate that the government is planning to introduce a new copyright exception for political advertising. The reports suggest that the exception would permit the use of news content in political advertising without authorization provided that it meets three conditions:
News content would have to meet three criteria for this exemption, the cabinet memo says. It would have to be published or made available through TV broadcasts or platforms such as YouTube. It would have to be obtained from a news source such as a news program or newspaper or periodical. And it would have to feature a political actor operating in that person’s capacity as a politician, or relate to a political issue.
While the reports sparked an immediate reaction claiming the government is legalizing theft, my view is that copyright law should not be used to stifle legitimate speech. Political speech – even noxious attack ads – surely qualifies as important speech that merits protection (see this CDT analysis for similar concerns in the US). I am not a fan of attack ads, but attempts to use copyright to claim absolute rights over the use of a portion of a video clip is surely counter to basic principles of fair dealing (in Canada) or fair use.
The Globe and Mail’s Simon Houpt ran a column over the weekend titled It’s Time to be Honest: Netflix is Parasitic. The piece received some positive commentary on Twitter, with some suggesting that it provided a counter-view to the Netflix support that has prevailed publicly and politically for several weeks in Canada. Houpt uses some effective imagery (Netflix as a Wal-Mart or Costco behemoth that will lay waste to Canadian film producers in the same way that the retail giants take out “mom and pop” stores), but this post argues that he does not come close to making his case.
The Netflix backlash (also found in Globe pieces from Kate Taylor and John Doyle) can be distilled down to two key concerns. First, that Netflix only produces a limited amount of original content and merely selling access to a large library will gradually mean no new content. Second, that Netflix (unlike the conventional broadcasters) does not contribute to the creation of original Canadian programming and the erosion of that support will lead to the end of new Canadian content. This second concern lies at the heart of the calls for a mandatory contribution by Netflix (referred to by some as a Netflix tax).