Political Perspectives is produced by the students and faculty of Carleton University's School of Journalism and Communication, Canada's oldest journalism school.


Picking digital locks

Posted by cwaddell under Election 2008, Election 2008 Student articles

Kate Scroggins


When Industry Minister Jim Prentice announced a series of reforms to the outdated Copyright Act before Parliament broke for the summer, he set the blogosphere on fire – pitting digital consumers against the creators of the content. 

Online griping and grumbling quickly turned to offline activism, as critics flooded Industry Canada with letters and protested outside Prentice’s office in Calgary.

Bill C-61 would have given consumers some new rights, to make a single copy of books or music for their own personal use, for example. But it would have made it illegal to circumvent “digital locks” on CDs and DVDs and imposed a $500 fine for anyone caught downloading illegal copies of music or movies.

The bill died when the election was called. 

And while copyright reform was a hot topic in Parliament, the parties have been quiet on the issue thus far in the campaign. 

Michael Geist, a professor at the University of Ottawa and an expert in Internet and e-commerce law, said he thinks copyright reform will be on the parliamentary agenda no matter what the outcome of the election. But he said he’s not surprised that the party leaders have stayed silent on copyright. 

“I don’t think anyone expected copyright to be a national issue, although it has been my view that copyright could be an issue in particular ridings with a high number of students,” he said. “And I’ve heard from people knocking on doors that people are concerned.”

A spokesperson for Prentice said copyright was still an important issue for the Conservatives. 

“The Conservatives are committed to modernizing copyright legislation,” said Jason Hatcher. “Bill C-61, which died on the order paper, represents where we want to go with copyright reform.”

Hatcher wouldn’t say whether the Conservatives would re-introduce the bill should the party win the election. 

NDP MP Charlie Angus said the issue may not be making headlines in the campaign, but voters are concerned. He said MPs have received thousands of letters criticizing the proposed reforms and voters in urban ridings around Toronto have raised the issue with NDP candidates. 

If elected, Angus, who is also the party’s digital spokesperson, said the NDP would focus on shutting down the bootleg industry, instead of targeting private users.

From their glass house, the Liberals have been cautious not to throw stones. 

The previous Liberal government tried to pass its own contentious copyright bill in 2005 but it died when the government was forced into an election. Instead, the Liberals have criticized the Conservative government for failing to consult Canadians. 

Spokesman Daniel Lauzon said if the Liberal party prevails on Oct. 14, they would make consultations on copyright reform a priority. 

“Whatever measures that come out of those consultations needs to foster innovation and fairly compensate creators,” said Lauzon. “We also don’t want to take any rights away from Canadians.”

“We want to strike a balance.”

Prentice introduced the bill in June calling it a “win-win” approach for consumers and creators of digital content. 

But the proposed reforms polarized the two sides. 

Lobby groups for the video game and recording industry supported the bill, saying the reforms were long overdue. Consumer advocacy groups strongly opposed provisions that could open the door to hefty fines for illegally downloading copyrighted material and for uploading this material onto file sharing networks or YouTube.

Canadian artists, caught between their record labels and advocacy groups, formed their own lobby, the Canadian Music Creators Coalition. It represents musicians like Sarah McLaughlin and Avril Lavigne who said that the bill was a step backwards for Canadian musicians. 

Geist was a vocal opponent of the bill and went so far as to organize a cyber movement called Fair Copyright for Canada. 

He said that the parties and interest groups agree that copyright reforms are necessary.

Gesit would like to see all of the parties committing to a fair and balanced approach, which means more flexible fair dealing, also known as fair use, to allow private users or teachers to use copyrighted material for educational purposes to be exempt from the law and that not to impose fines for consumers who break “digital locks.”