By Elizabeth May and Griffin Carpenter
As the federal government’s copyright consultations roll through the summer, with more and more perspectives being added to the mix, one wonders how ministers Tony Clement and James Moore plan to take this process from the consultation phase to the construction of public policy.
Certainly, the fact that these consultations are being held is a small victory for those wishing to move forward on copyright reform. One of the most leveled criticisms of Ottawa’s earlier attempt at a copyright bill, Bill C-61, was that there was a lack of stakeholder input.
Still, while giving credit where credit is due, these consultations must move beyond rhetoric and division. In a July 27 op-ed, “Will the Conservatives get the message on copyright reform?”, NDP critic for digital issues Charlie Angus correctly notes many of the pitfalls of Bill C-61 and suggests a balance between creators and users is needed in the digital age.
Indeed, the time has come to move beyond commonly repeated rhetoric that either inaccurately describes so-called pirates who “steal” media or else falsely advocates for free copyright and performance-based business models. The issue of copyright extends much farther than this rhetoric and deserves focused attention. In fact, even distinctions between creators and users fail to reflect an accurate picture of the nature of innovation. In the digital age of blogs and remixes, the lines between creators and users have become even more blurred.
Thus far, no political party has offered a positive vision on copyright. Such a vision must reflect simple truths. Information-sharing technologies are here to stay. These technologies are beneficial to all sectors of the economy. A thriving information commons is one that yields sustainable artistic innovation.
From these truths a principled approach to copyright emerges:
- User rights must be defined and extended through a flexible fair-dealing mechanism;
- Current laws on Crown copyright and public domain must be reformed to build a healthy information commons; and
- Protection and compensation for creators must be ensured through a statutory-damages provision based on reasonably demonstrated loss.
Indeed, for the Greens, this principled approach to copyright is not an isolated issue but part of our vision. As we work to reduce our environmental footprint without sacrificing jobs or income, economic development must occur in knowledge-based areas. A healthy green economy requires fair treatment of both creators and users, fostering their ability to interact and build on each other’s contributions. It is important that public policy generated from these consultations does not stifle creativity through excessive restrictions nor render it unprofitable through lack of protections.
What is at stake during these consultations is the very manner in which the future economy and culture of arts operates. If we want this information age to function appropriately, copyright law must have future generations of creators and users in mind. The absence of these groups at the consultation means it is time to shed divisive rhetoric and work towards a principled approach to copyright.
Elizabeth May is the leader of the Green Party of Canada.
Griffin Carpenter is the party’s youth and education critic.