A coalition of U.S. software, movie and music producers has accused Canada of very lax intellectual property (IP) laws and enforcement and urged that it be placed on a U.S. government agency’s “priority watch list.”
The “priority watch list” maintained by the United States Trade Representative (USTR) features the names of countries that are believed to be persistent IP offenders. A U.S. government agency, the USTR is located in Geneva and Brussels.
The Washington-based International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) is lobbying to have Canada moved from another “lower priority” USTR list to the more serious “priority watch list.”
Such a classification would place Canada in company with other so-called “IP evil doers” such as China and Russia – where piracy is believed to be rampant.
The IIPA justifies its demand on grounds that the Canadian government has failed to modernize its copyright laws and crackdown on software pirates.
“Canada has fallen far behind almost every other developed country in terms of modernizing and enforcing its copyright laws,” says IIPA counsel Steve Metalitz.
The IIPA is a private sector coalition representing U.S. copyright-based industries and works to improve international protection of copyrighted materials.
Its lower-priority status on the USTR list hasn’t prompted Canada to act decisively in curbing piracy, says Metalitz. “We hope [moving Canada to the priority list] sends the message to the Canadian government that this is a serious problem and they should take it seriously.”
The IIPA says Canada’s lax laws have made the country a have for makers of bootlegged movies, software and microchips – known as mod chips – that are used to bypass anti-piracy technology built into video game consoles.
According to the Alliance, as much as 25 per cent of bootlegged movies are made in Canada by way of unauthorized video-taping in movie theatres.
Bootlegged movies and mod chips are two areas where Canada exports piracy, says Metalitz. “That’s always a concern. It’s not just hurting its own market, it’s also having an impact on other countries.”
According to Metalitz, the most significant and immediate fallout of being on the list is the unflattering company Canada would keep with “countries that everyone knows are big copyright violators.”
Subjecting Canada to trade sanctions could also be a possible repercussion, albeit further down the road, says Metalitz. “But we hope it would not come to that.”
Every year, the IIPA submits recommendations to the USTR as part of a report that discusses copyright protection, enforcement and market access problems around the world. This year, it recommended 16 countries either remain or be placed on the priority watch list.
Canada’s failure to modernize copyright law in response to the advent of the Internet is a major concern, said the Canadian Alliance against Software Theft (CAAST) in a statement released to IT World Canada.
With hubs located throughout Toronto, CAAST is an industry alliance of software publishers who share a common goal of reducing software piracy. Member companies include Apple, Microsoft, Adobe Systems, Autodesk, and Symantec.
CAAST notes that Canada is a signatory to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Copyright Treaty a decade ago, “signalling its intention to bring its laws into the digital age. This still has not happened.”
The WIPO, whose mandate is to develop a balanced and accessible international intellectual property (IP) system, created an international treaty on copyright law that was adopted by its member states in 1996.
Besides advancing local creative industries and promoting innovation, modernizing copyright law “would also go a long way toward eliminating this point of friction between the U.S. and Canadian governments,” the statement said.
But not everyone believes the positions held by lobby groups such as IIPA and CAAST are valid.
They’re shifting the focus away from what’s important, says David Fewer, staff counsel at Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC) in Ottawa.
“We should be talking about the proper limitations of this technology – in other words, how law can be used to minimize the harm these technologies can do.” Instead, Fewer says, the debate is focused on stripping away user rights. He says it’s also “about what kind of innovative opportunities we want to eliminate with this stroke of the legislative pen. It’s frustrating.”
The CIPPIC is part of the University of Ottawa’s faculty of law and deals with policy and law-making processes in the area of new technologies.
As for the Alliance’s claim that as much as 25 per cent of bootlegged movies are made in Canada by way of unauthorized video-taping in movie theatres, Fewer says although he has no basis to agree or disagree with this figure, he cautions wariness of “self-supporting industry statistics.”
“I’m certainly skeptical that Canada is a hotbed of international piracy,” he says.
While Fewer does not condone infringing on copyright movies, he says laws should not have detrimental effects on the local economy and content creators. “And these are precisely the kinds of laws being championed by these rights lobbyists.”
Fewer gives little credence to the priority watch list, calling it a “trade pressure tactic of the U.S.” to push domestic economic interests internationally.
“Being on the list would be an indication that Canada is looking after its own interests and not reacting to demands to protect U.S. interests. Having Canada on the trade watch list is a badge of honour.”