Canada should be blacklisted as an evildoer of intellectual property rights because the Canadian government has failed to modernize its copyright laws and refuses to crack down on software pirates, says a group of U.S. lobbyists.
The International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) has accused Canada of lenient law and enforcement of intellectual property rights and urged the country be placed on the United States Trade Representative’s “priority watch list.”
The Trade Representative (USTR), a U.S. federal government agency located in Geneva and Brussels, maintains a “priority watch list” of countries that perpetually infringe upon or flagrantly disregard intellectual property rights.
Washington-based IIPA, a coalition of U.S. software, movie and music producers, wants Canada reclassified as a persistent offender, joining countries like China and Russia on the blacklist of intellectual property 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.
IIPA is a private sector coalition representing U.S. copyright-based industries and claims to work towards improving international protection of copyrighted materials.
Canada’s low-priority status on the Trade Representative’s list has not prompted the Canadian government 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 Alliance says Canada’s lax laws have made the country a haven for bootleg movie makers, software pirates and manufacturers of mod chips (microchips used to bypass anti-piracy technology in video game consoles).
According to IIPA, as much as 25 per cent of bootleg movies are made in Canada by way of unauthorized video-taping in movie theatres.
Bootleg movies and mod chips are two areas where Canada exports piracy, says Metalitz. “This isn’t just hurting the Canadian market, it’s also having an impact on other countries.”
Metalitz says the most significant and immediate fallout of being on the high priority list would be the unflattering company – Canada would be branded among the world’s most notorious pirates, along 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.”
Each year, the Alliance submits its recommendations to the Trade Representative 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.
The Canadian Alliance against Software Theft (CAAST) says Canada’s failure to modernize copyright law in response to the advent of the Internet is a major concern.
CAAST notes that Canada is a signatory to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Copyright Treaty. A decade ago, the Canadian government signaled its intention to bring its laws into the digital age. “This still has not happened.”
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, says CAAST.
But not everyone believes the positions held by lobby groups such as IIPA and CAAST are valid. David Fewer, staff counsel at the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC) in Ottawa, says they’re shifting the focus away from what’s important.
“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. “It’s also about what kind of innovative opportunities we want to eliminate with this stroke of the legislative pen. It’s frustrating.”
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.
Fewer also cautions against wariness of what he calls self-supporting industry statistics. “I’m certainly skeptical that Canada is a hotbed of international piracy,” he says.
Fewer does not condone infringing on copyrights, 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.”
Readers write back:
Arthur N. Klassen of Aldergrove, B.C., on March 1 wrote: “The U.S., home of the Mickey Mouse Copyright non-expiry, is so far out of touch with regard to copyright that any and every country should stand up to them. It’s in the U.S. that ‘fair use’ rights have eroded to the point of non-existence. It’s in the U.S. that silly laws like the DMCA get passed. It’s in the U.S. that the RIAA and MPAA sue grandmothers and others based on erroneous ISP logs. Lock the bullies out and tell them to revise their own laws to be more reasonable, not to impose their outrageous standards – which large numbers of their own citizens object to – on everyone else. And that’s my final answer. Oh. Whoops. Is that copyrighted?”