Charlie Angus: Will the Conservatives get the message on copyright reform?

By Charlie Angus

So what should we make of the Conservative government’s sudden interest in consulting the public over copyright? For the past three years, this government kept the process firmly hidden behind closed doors. The result has been a massive backlash from educators, artists, research innovators, and average citizens.

The push back certainly shocked the government. But it shouldn’t have. In a digital age, everyone is implicated in the issue of copyright.

Every day, Canadians cut and paste, make copies, and create multimedia PowerPoint presentations. They share clips of their favourite videos on YouTube and download their favourite TV shows onto iPods. Who controls these works or is entitled to remuneration for such copying has become a major stress point in the ongoing development of digital culture.

What has become abundantly clear is that an empowered public is not going to sit back and allow a small group of corporate lobbyists to define the terms of the copyright debate.

So how much faith should we put in the consultations? While there is certainly some room for skepticism over the effectiveness of Tony Clement and James Moore’s barnstorming tour in summer, I am more than willing to wish them well. Despite the heated rhetoric, the opportunity to create some progressive legislation on copyright may be at hand.

Over the last five years, there has been a slow but steady movement between the various “armed camps” on copyright. When I speak with artists groups or consumer advocates, there is a growing recognition of the need to move beyond the rhetoric and get the legislation rolling.

Needless to say, the corporate lobbyists continue to attempt to define the debate as in apocalyptic terms. To them, Canada is a haven of “pirates”, “thieves”, and “bootleggers”. But the Chicken Little approach to copyright is wearing thin. Put simply, people aren’t buying it anymore. All we have to do is look south of the border to see the results of corporate-driven copyright legislation. Earlier this summer, an American single mother was smacked with a US$1.92-million judgment for trading a batch of Gloria Estefan and Green Day MP3s.

This outrageous penalty is just the latest Pyrrhic victory in the Recording Industry Association of America’s attempt to prop up an outdated business model. Should legislators be dragged down this dead-end road? Certainly not. The most important lesson Canadian legislators can learn from the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act is that creating “tough” laws are not the same as creating “effective” laws.

This is why the Conservative’s first attempt at Bill C-61 failed. The copyright bill deliberately blurred the line between corporate counterfeiting and legitimate personal use of digital products. It was bulky, unenforceable, and ultimately ridiculous. Hopefully, the Conservatives are learning that in order for a law to be enforceable it must have a level of public legitimacy and buy-in. To have buy-in, public consultation is a prerequisite.

Is it possible to find a balance in the digital age? Most definitely. It’s about finding the balance between two important principles: artists have a moral right over their work and deserve to be remunerated for this work; at the same time, consumers, academics, and researchers have a right to access these works with minimal restrictions.

Copyright legislation must also differentiate the personal use of copyrighted works from criminal acts of infringement and counterfeiting. As well, we must make the overriding goal the continued innovation of the digital world.

Is there political will to make this happen? This remains to be seen. But if the Conservatives fail, it will be because they haven’t seized the opportunities at hand. As one American expert in copyright law said to me recently, given the clear examples of failed copyright policy in the United States, Canada has the chance “to get it right”.

Charlie Angus is the NDP critic for digital issues and the MP for Timmins-James Bay in Ontario.




Jul 27, 2009 at 9:36pm

"Chicken Little" approach? The last time I looked, the sky had not fallen in the 'evil American empire' despite changes its government made to its copyright act over 10 years ago. The sky has also not fallen on the EU and many other countries that, unlike us Canadians, have modernized their copyright laws in ways that are more pro-rightsholder than those that were proposed in Bill C-61. While it's become fashionable for consumer and academic lobbyists to be indifferent to, ahem, "trading", hopefully you and your counterparts in Ottawa will see through the trend, and will focus on reforms that ensure fair remuneration for Canadian creators and broad legal access for their fans.


Jul 28, 2009 at 7:34am

@NOBSPLS, I suggest re-reading the article because your comment doesn't discount it. The RIAA and MPAA's of the world have been (since the days of the phonograph) that every new technology and way of exchanging culture would "destroy" the content industry. Each time, it doesn't.

You need to review the debate over VCR's with record buttons in the 80's as well as the ensuing lawsuits. VCR's didn't kill the movie industry, and neither will file sharing.


Jul 28, 2009 at 8:12am

Heightened rhetoric is all that gets through to politicians so we need more of it with specific threats to their careers if they don't listen. Any law must differentiate between commercial intent, non-commercial intent and private use. The thresholds for civil and criminal proceedings must be spelled out in the legislation with the complainant forced to go before a judge to demonstrate that the thresholds were exceeded before a case proceeds to requiring a defendant to appear.


Jul 28, 2009 at 10:07am

I disagree with the above but my disagree button is blanked out. First of all copyright law does not necessarily protect the content CREATORS but corporate copyright OWNERS who will do anything to swindle the creators out of their fair share. Even people who share MP3s etc will go out and buy CDs and DVDs if something is good enough. Often all this sharing and passing back and forth ends up being free advertising. As for intellectual property; quite a while ago I looked up my name on google and found a link to an email I had sent long ago, however to read it I would have to pay registration fee. IE my email that I wrote and sent had become somebody else's intellectual property!!!!


Jul 28, 2009 at 10:44am

The corporations' interests should not be confused with the artists' interests. Out of all money gained from lawsuits in the US approximately none of it has actually reached the hands of the artists who created the work. Record companies are notorious for paying little to nothing of the profits to their artists, and don't want to. Often the only people who lose to file sharing are those who had nothing to do with creating the works in the first place.

Also, Nobspls... the "Chicken Little" approach is the one favored by the corporate lobbyists, not the other way around, as you seem to believe.


Jul 28, 2009 at 1:11pm

Actually Locklin, I would suggest you re-read my comment. File sharing and "fair remuneration for Canadian creators and broad legal access for their fans" can be complimentary with the right copyright reforms. In this regard, if you have not already, you may wish to check out the Songwriters' proposal: The EFF proposed a variation on this idea several years ago. "Trading" euphemisms are no better than 'boston-strangler' references a la Jack Valenti, in my books. Also, gratuitous shots at America's approach to digital copyright reforms show a general lack of awareness of the way in which many, many other jurisdictions, including all of Europe, have chosen to similarly implement the WIPO treaties. And again the sky has not fallen in any of those countries the last time I looked. Could Bill C-61 have been better? Of course. But to dismiss it wholesale as the work of American influenced, corporate lobbyists is a bit rich (and a bit NDP). I say the latter frankly as a general supporter of the NDP.

Gabriel, please see above.


Jul 29, 2009 at 7:19am

Europe has not ratified the WIPO treaties. The UK, Spain, Sweden, Portugal, the Netherlands, Italy, Israel, Greece, Germany, France, Finland, Denmark, Austria, and the EU are all just signatories of the WIPO Treaties, just like Canada.

You don't think the notice-and-takedown approach, which is equivalent to Salemesque witch hunts accusations without the need for proof and requires the "guilty until proven innocent" defense in the US DMCA isn't the "sky falling?" The abuse of this system is well documented (ie Viacom). It is especially telling when Bruce Lehman, the main architect of the DMCA tells a conference in McGill that "our Clinton administration policies didn't work out very well", "we are entering the "post-copyright" era for music" and "urging Canada to think outside the box on future copyright reform." (

If anyone can point to a website by a consumer rights or advocate group that claims to have been consulted in the drafting of C-61, then the above statement could be considered a bit rich.

michael hennessy

Jul 29, 2009 at 1:32pm

As an evil corporate lobbyist on the ISP side might I suggest that balance is not so bad. Copyright sets limits on rights. It was never meant to crush fair use a la re-mix culture but that does not mean that re-mix culture in itself is an open invitation to a free lunch. No balance,no business.No business and most creators sell life insurance rather than dreams.


Jul 29, 2009 at 1:48pm

MikeB: I didn't claim that the EU has completed the formality of ratification. You may wish to check out the EU Copyright Directive to get a sense of the provisions EU countries HAVE implemented in their respective laws. Compare and contrast with Bill C-61 -- you may be surprised.

In my view, the safe harbour provisions with their checks and balances in the DMCA don't qualify for sky-is-falling status. And, finally, you may have missed the part of the video you posted where Lehman says there has been an "over-reaction to the DMCA".


Jul 29, 2009 at 8:33pm

Copyright ownership is the main issue, and it's an issue that probably will not be addressed in this legislation.

Specifically it is my argument that copyright is not property, and therefore cannot be sold. Copyright should at all times remain the property of the Creator, until the Creator's death, at which time it transfers to the heirs.

Copyright should be able to be leased. I would recommend a lease of no more than five years, and that automatic renewals of leases be illegal.

If we do this, it transfers control back to the creators, where it belongs.