Business coalition speaks out on copyright reform

The Conservative government’s long-delayed copyright reform bill has hit yet another roadblock, this time in the form of a powerful business coalition comprised of corporate giants such as Google Inc., Yahoo Inc., Rogers Communications Inc. and Telus Corp.

Last December, an unprecedented show of opposition from Canadians – which included thousands of members on a popular Fair Copyright Facebook group – might have forced Industry Minister Jim Prentice to delay his copyright reform bill from being tabled in the House of Commons.

Now, well into the New Year, it appears the formation of the Business Coalition for Balanced Copyright may have pushed copyright reform even further down the government’s to-do list. The coalition sent its stance on seven key copyright issues to Industry Canada, which included expanded fair dealing rights, cautions against overly restrictive protections for digital locks, and the institution of more rational enforcement measures.

“It was notable that Industry Minister Prentice has frequently cited business support as one of the major reasons in pushing forward on his plan,” Michael Geist, research chair of Internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa told ComputerWorld Canada. “I’m guessing some of those businesses decided they ought to be speaking out in their own name.”

This lack of consultation at the business level, spurred one of Canada’s biggest corporations, Rogers Communications, to sign on to the coalition. Pam Dinsmore, vice-president of regulatory affairs at Rogers, said that the last consultation her company had with the government dates back to the early 2000s.

“It’s always better when dealing with the government to show you have solid support and with this we’re putting the issues we’ve lobbied for in the past, along with the concerns of others in the community, directly before the minister,” Dinsmore said. “As a company we’ve changed. Five or six years we weren’t offering music or video services over our wireless platform, so a lot of new technologies and services have come down the pipeline recently and it’s absolutely essential that the government check in with us.”

Geist agreed, saying that the government’s last true consultation occurred way back in 2001.

“There are people who will vote in this election who were 11 or 12 at the time,” Geist said. “There is a real need to go back to the Canadian public now, and I think having these kinds of groups come out and take about the issues will hopefully encourage the government to recognize that.”

The proposed bill, entitled “An Act to amend the Copyright Act,” has been compared to the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) — a comparison which stems from speculation that the bill contains anti-circumvention provisions for technical provision measures (TPMs) which would make it illegal to modify, improve, back-up or make products that interact with any devices fitted with the tool.

Third Brigade CTO Brian O’Higgins – another coalition member – said that potential U.S.-style anti-circumvention provisions would inadvertently hamper security research and act as an unintended negative consequence of copyright reform. O’Higgins said that issue alone was motivation enough for the Ottawa-based security company to sign on with the coalition.

“Suppose there is a vulnerability that’s related to a TPM mechanism, we would not be allowed to patch that, and it could result in a world of hurt for users,” O’Higgins said. “So, I was pleased that this coalition heard our angle on security research and included our concerns along with the rest of the issues. Security research shouldn’t be encumbered by any law – it isn’t today and it shouldn’t be tomorrow.”

O’Higgins drew comparisons to the 2005 Sony BMG rootkit scandal where the company came under fire for the security vulnerabilities found in its CD copy protection measures.

And from yet another end of the business spectrum, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) also signed on with the movement. It stressed the need for new legislation to avoid copyright liability for technical processes – an example being the right for radio stations to make copies of the music they receive – as its reason for signing on to the group.

“This is a good way to add the concerns of business users of copyright to the other very prominent voices and statements that we’ve seen in the media already,” Margot Patterson, general council and vice-president of legal affairs at the CAB, said. “The title of the group is the Business Coalition for Balance Copyright, so part of that balance is being able to hear both sides effectively. We want to make sure that business users are heard and our concerns are made clear.”

Geist said the wide spectrum of companies involved in the coalition – which includes security, broadcast, retail and many other technology companies and associations – highlights the importance of the government’s need to create balanced legislation.

One of the reasons Geist is excited with formation of the coalition is that many of the principles articulated by the business community have a lot in common with what consumers, educators, and researchers have calling for.

“It would appear to me that we’re seeing a real emerging consensus on what fair and balanced copyright materials should look like,” Geist said. “And while there are specific issues for specific industries, the core principles around more flexible fair dealing, around fair enforcement practices and around a balanced approach to any circumvention legislation, are the same principles we’ve seen other Canadians bring forward.”

And as for where this issue might go for here, industry watchers like Geist are shying away from making any bold predictions.

“Anyone who thinks they can predict this issue with any certainty is fooling themselves considering all the twists and turns over the last few months,” Geist said. “Hopefully the government will now recognize that its plans were ill-advised, dangerous politically, and really out-of-step with the interests of such broad sectors across Canada, and that there’s an opportunity to now consult the public and engage in a broader discussion.”

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