Jennifer Mercurio: Canadian copyright reform should not weaken consumer rights

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      By Jennifer Mercurio

      Canadian copyright laws must balance the interests of intellectual property content owners with the rights and interests of their consumers. Copyright laws provide owners with the exclusive rights to use their works as they see fit, though such rights are not absolute, and are limited in time, nature, and scope.

      For the consumer, Canadian copyright laws are already imbalanced in favour of stronger rights for content owners. Recent attempts to amend the Copyright Act via methods like Bill C-61 have threatened to further tip the balance against consumers. The fundamental principles that benefit a strong and productive consumer and content creator relationship should be defined as follows:

      ”¢ Copyright laws should seek to protect Canadian consumers and the public interest, as well as content creators—not just the technology limiting access to content, which shifts the law in favour of the content creator. These laws should encourage a better understanding through intellectual property education of the fundamental concepts of intellectual property throughout Canadian society, in the court systems, Parliament, and the general public. Before making any rulings, the Canadian government should undertake an unbiased review of new technologies for the purposes of understanding their functions and how they might benefit or harm consumers, in addition to industry and interests. Such new technology may include new forms of data distribution, such as peer-to-peer networks, digital content creation, as well as devices that may potentially circumvent the copyright protection features of current technology.

      ”¢ Modifying copyright laws to modern technologies should not undermine consumer rights or constrain common consumer practices that have been in place in Canada for many years. Selecting narrow, specific provisions that define a particular type of copyright or trademark infringement is one particular method that will defend and laud not only content owners’ rights, but also protect consumers from egregious blanket policies.

      ”¢ Technology that weakens the existing rights of consumers while strengthening the protection of content should not be valued nor promoted. As it has never been a violation of copyright law for a consumer to listen to music or read a book in the privacy of one’s residence, electronic copies of such works should be treated in the same fashion. Further, current laws, which allow making a personal backup copy for data, either in digital form or in physical form, should not be diminished.

      Ӣ The Canadian government and legal system should be encouraged to further define penalties for copyright and trademark violations so that the courts will have a common, shared threshold of consequences for violations. Over the years, the Canadian court system has had sporadic fluctuations of sentences handed down for intellectual property violations. If the courts are to uniformly enforce intellectual property, common standards throughout the provinces must be made and adhered to. Again, this concept returns to the importance of intellectual property education in Canadian society.

      Consumers should not accept a series of laws that place industries ahead of them. A balance must be met between content creators and consumers in order for a healthy and productive society to be achieved. Any copyright legislation to advance Canada’s business and consumer interests must embody these principles. Consumers should continue to push for legislation that not only protects copyright owners, but also protects consumers from potentially one-sided policies.

      Jennifer Mercurio is vice president and general counsel for the Entertainment Consumers Association, a nonprofit membership organization that represents consumers of interactive entertainment in the U.S. and Canada. The association was founded to give gamers a collective voice with which to communicate their concerns, address their issues, and focus their advocacy efforts. The ECA has an on-line form that lets you send a message in support of consumer rights to your member of Parliament and senator.



      Gordon Freeman

      Sep 2, 2009 at 4:40pm

      May I ask how your group is funded? Honestly I would donate. This is a well written article and argues everything I and many others, have been saying since the government tried to introduce legislation (bill c-61) last June. Every point here deserves to be read in front of parliament.

      Please keep up the excellent work. North America needs more groups like yours.

      Brett Schenker

      Sep 3, 2009 at 8:52am

      Gordon -

      Thank you for the supporting comment. The ECA is funded by it's members, for which they receive all kinds of discounts. You can find out more about joining at

      Brett Schenker
      Online Advocacy Manager
      the ECA