Copyright reform supporters urge TPM-based law

The Canadian copyright reform debate raged on during a panel discussion on intellectual property rights Wednesday, and while members of the recording, film, and Parliament argued in support for controversial legislation, at least one industry expert said they are failing to listen to the Canadian public.

The roundtable discussion, which took place at the University of Toronto, featured speakers such as Pickering-Scarborough East MP Dan McTeague, EMI Music President Deane Cameron, and Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA) President Graham Henderson, among others. Many of the speakers stressed the need for strict copyright legislation to keep the Canadian entertainment and software industries thriving.

“We need to recognize that Canada signed a treaty saying that it would implement WIPO,” MP Dan McTeague said. “Canada lags behind many nations in this. It’s an important debate for politicians in this country.”

Other panelists, like Graham Henderson, president of the CRIA agreed: “Intellectual property rights in general are very poorly understood in Canada. We don’t talk, think or write a lot about it. It’s created a missing link in Canada’s innovation agenda.”

While copyright reform has been an on-and-off issue for the government throughout the decade, the issue was reignited after copyright reform was mentioned in the government’s throne speech last October. It was at that speech that the Conservatives expressed its intention to create news laws that adopt the World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) copyright treaty. The WIPO treaty, adopted in 1996, provides additional protections for copyright due to advances (at the time) in information technology, including anti-circumvention laws for technical protection measures (TPMs).

Industry Minister Jim Prentice was prepared to move ahead with a proposed bill, which was rumoured to include anti-circumvention legislation for TPMs, but an unprecedented show of opposition from Canadians last December – which included thousands of members flocking to join the Fair Copyright Facebook group – has forced to the copyright bill to the backburner.

Michael Geist, research chair of Internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa and the founder of the popular copyright Facebook group, has been one of the most outspoken critics of the rumoured copyright legislation and was in the audience during the panel discussion. He said that while counterfeiting and piracy was a universal concern, there has been widespread division as to how to attain fair and balanced copyright laws.

“Countries like New Zealand and Israel have rejected TPM-type legislation,” he said in a comment to the panelists. “We need a more balanced approach to this before launching into legislation of which there is no universal agreement on.”

Wendy Noss – the acting executive director of the Canadian Motion Picture Association (CMPA) – responded to Geist’s comment by pointing out that many countries around the world, such those in the European Union and Japan have already got onboard with WIPO and that Canada should follow suit.

“All of Canada’s major trading partners have implemented the treaties already,” she argued.

“Filmmakers and consumers want a range of choices,” she continued. “They want [films] on the devices they want and how they want it. These depend on technical protection measures. Without it, consumers will have less choice.”

McTeague also took issue with Geist’s comments, as well as everybody opposed to WIPO-inspired copyright legislation.

“We’re concerned about Canada’s international reputation and the belief of Canadians that file sharing is acceptable,” McTeague told the crowd of journalists and Canadian business representatives. “We can’t continue to have a number of individual lob grenades to stop what needs to be done. We need to proceed with protecting Canadian jobs.”

But Geist insisted that it isn’t just a few individuals leading the charge.

“Unfortunately, the concerns of education groups, businesses, and tens of thousands of Canadians are seen as nothing more than a handful of individuals lobbing grenades into the process,” Geist said in an interview with ComputerWorld Canada. “EMI, who was on the panel, was actually the first to drop digital rights management from their products, so the reality is that most consumers reject TPMs. But the question isn’t whether you can use TPMs; it’s whether or not you need to use legislation protecting them.”

Earlier this year, Geist’s voice was echoed by a powerful business coalition comprised of corporate giants such as Google Inc., Yahoo Inc., Rogers Communications Inc. and Telus Corp. The Business Coalition for Balanced Copyright 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.