Why it is important to participate in the study by parliament’s Industry Committee

Last week the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology (INDU), a committee of the Canadian house of Commons, adopted a motion to conduct a study into Canadian science and technology. While April 18 is the last day for submissions, I made a draft of my submission available for public review and comment (OpenDocument, PDF, HTML).

I believe it is critically important that our sector, especially those using modern alternative methods of production, distribution and funding, to participate in this study.

Odd recommendations from past studies

In May and June of 2007 this committee did a Counterfeiting and Piracy of Intellectual Property. The issues I am concerned with do not really touch “counterfeiting” or “piracy” the way these terms are normally used, so I did not participate.

Counterfeiting normally refers to the creation and distribution of imitation products with the intent to deceptively represent its content or origins. This activity is linked in philosophy to trademark law which is intended as a form of consumer protection. Consumers can’t make decisions in the marketplace without having correct information about the companies that produce the products, and to know that marks on products are authentic. There are clear public safety implications when one considers things like medical products, drugs or automotive parts.

While the term “piracy” is a theft committed at sea, in this context the term “piracy” normally refers to the commercial distribution of unauthorized copies of copyrighted works. There is little sympathy in our society for those who make money off of someone else’s work, whether the outputs are tangible or not.

I was very surprised when the report was released which included the following:

Recommendation 17
That the Government of Canada ratify the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty.

These two treaties have nothing at all to do with “counterfeiting” or “piracy”, and yet they were included in a recommendation.

I shouldn’t have been too surprised given the same recommendation was made as part of their study on Challenges Facing the Canadian Manufacturing Sector.

That the Government of Canada immediately bring forth legislation to amend the Copyright Act; ratify the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Copyright Treaty (WCT) and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT); amend related acts; and ensure appropriate enforcement resources are allocated to combat the scourge and considerable economic and competitive damage to Canada’s manufacturing and services sectors, and to Canada’s international reputation by the proliferation of counterfeiting and piracy of intellectual property.

I found that so disconnected that I send a letter to the committee members pointing to an article I wrote asking if Plastics manufacturers oppose plastic-free distribution of music?.

The type of policy promoted in the 1996 WIPO Internet treaties will not be helpful to the manufacturing sector. In fact, commentators like Cory Doctorow in articles like “How Hollywood, Congress, And DRM Are Beating Up The American Economy” have discussed how the thinking behind these treaties are in fact greatly harming the North American manufacturing sector.

The take-away from these two reports is that our community must be involved in these studies, even if the issues we are concerned with are not specifically mentioned in the description of the study. When I met with James Rajotte (Conservative, Edmonton – Leduc), chair of Industry Committee, he told me that I should have participated.

Specifics of study

While the past two studies didn’t seem related, it is clear that this study is. This study includes topics such as “Science advice to government”, “Commercialization, venture capital and intellectual property”, “Federally funded research performed in government and higher education; and “‘Big science’ projects and Canada’s position in global science and technology”.

Given much of the advancements in recent decades come from new methods of production, distribution and funding enabled by new information and communications technology, the areas I blog about are clearly subjects of this study.

The problem is no longer that the issues aren’t clearly on-topic, but that too many areas are on-topic. In my draft submission I offer an overview of a number of topics. The feedback I have received so far suggests that I am introducing many concepts that the committee members aren’t likely going to be familiar with already, such as the discussions of the End-to-End design principle for networks (See: Trying to understand parliamentarians’ misunderstanding of core new technology issues).

This is why it is important that many people participate, and that talking about this diversity is not left to only a few people. Our political and economic opponents in the old economy (Those listed in the article referenced in the previous paragraph) will certainly be making their submissions, trying to suggest that going backwards in time to revive the old economy is a viable path for our future. We need to ensure that our global position is not threatened by these throwbacks to the old economy.

Do you have thoughts on Network Neutrality? What about access to civic data, or educational use of the Internet? Do you think that physical media like CDs and DVDs has a future, or agree with the plastics manufacturers that government should ensure that plastic remain key to the distribution of multimedia? Do you think software patents are a good idea? What about gene patents, seed patents, or patents on higher life forms? Do you think our food supply should become less diverse as a result of market manipulations by patent holders such as Monsanto?

I know there are many strong views on the issues that this committee is studying, and thus we must seize this opportunity.

P.S. I was a witness in front of this committee in 2004, and I highly recommend other people offering to do the same. The transcript from that meeting may be useful to read to get a sense of the type of questions that are asked. I hope that I will be called for this study as well.

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