Copyright Act Review

Copyright reform is not an issue in this federal election, but it probably should be.

The Copyright Act underwent a substantial overhaul with the passage of the Copyright Modernization Act in 2012. The legislation was the culmination of more than a decade of policy development and public consultations by successive governments. Previous attempts to pass copyright reform legislation by the Liberal Government of Paul Martin in 2005 and by the Conservative Governments of Stephen Harper in 2008 and 2010 died when either an election was called or Parliament was prorogued.

Section 92 of the Copyright Act requires a review of the Copyright Act by a Parliamentary Committee every five years, and the next review has to be underway by June 2017. The first time Parliament conducted a Section 92 Review of the Copyright Act, the process began a year before the Report was due and included cross-country public meetings, several rounds of submissions from interested parties and a lengthy review process by the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.

Therefore, in order to conduct a review of the Act and prepare the report for submission to Parliament by June 2017, the new Government (which party ends up forming it) will have to wrap its head around copyright reform issues fairly early in the new mandate.

Copyright Policy

Copyright reform is generally not considered a 'vote getter'. It does not readily lend itself to quick sound bites, other than the occasional consumer hot button issue (like the "No iPod Tax" campaign from a few years ago). Furthermore, copyright policy positions tend to be over-simplified as being either pro-creator or pro-user so taking a hard position risks alienating either users or creators.

There are a number of key issues that will almost certainly be debated during the forthcoming review of the Copyright Act:

User's rights vs. creators' rights: The Act has a number of exceptions for personal uses and fair dealing that allow some use of copyright protected content without the consent of the rights owner or the need to pay compensation. Users will want these exceptions expanded to cover additional uses and creators will want requirements to pay compensation for uses.

ISPs vs. Rights Owners: Copyright owners have long complained that internet service providers do not do enough to prevent online copyright infringement. ISPs maintain that they are merely intermediaries and should be required to police their subscribers' activities. Copyright will want to see "notice and takedown" provisions and "three strike" provisions added to the Act. ISPs will oppose the imposition of additional obligations.

Publishers vs. Educational Institutions: There is an ongoing debate between book publishers on one hand and educational institutions and provincial governments on the other hand over the use of digital and photocopies of text books and other printed material. Educators will want more flexibility to use copies in the classroom while publishers will want to preserve their business models.

Players; Parties & Politics

Copyright is a shared mandate between the Departments of Industry and Canadian Heritage. However, since neither Industry Minister James Moore nor Heritage Minister Shelly Glover are running for re-election, it is guaranteed that we will have new ministers at the helm of the these two departments regardless of which party manages to form the next government. Even though they are not featured in election platforms, the three main Federal Parties did stake out their respective positions during the legislative process that lead to the passage of the Copyright Modernization Act.

The Conservative Party - The Conservative Government which introduced the Copyright Modernization Act positioned itself as being pro-consumer, pro-copyright industries and pro-market solutions. It opposed measures like a digital copying levy (which it dubbed the "iPod Tax"). The legislation added a number of new personal use exceptions so that everyday activities like moving music from a computer to a music player, uploading personal videos to sites like YouTube and recording television programming, do not infringe copyright. For the copyright industries (movie studios, record labels, game producers etc.) the bill included protection for digital locks and provisions intended to let copyright owners take legal action against people who facilitate copyright infringement online. The most active Conservative MP on the copyright file running for re-election is Mike Lake, who was the Parliamentary Secretary to Industry Minister James Moore. Lake is the MP for the new Alberta riding of Edmonton-Wetaskiwin.

The Liberal Party - The Liberal Party took a fairly moderate position in response to the legislation. It opposed the digital copying levy (the "iPod tax") and criticized the digital lock provisions for potentially interfering with users' fair use rights. However, it opposed a general exception for education that could prejudice the interests of publishers. Key MPs on the copyright file include Marc Garneau, Pablo Rodriguez and Geoff Regan.

The NDP - The NDP aligned itself with the interests of individual artists and creators and criticized the legislation for not doing anything to support these individuals. It supported an expanded private copying levy that would compensate creators for digital copies of songs. It also criticized the fact that there were no fair use exceptions to the digital lock provisions. Key MPs are Charlie Angus, Andrew Cash and Paul Dewar.

Public Opinion

With the widespread adoption of digital technologies and high speed internet networks that give almost instantaneous access to content from anywhere in the world (from both authorized and unauthorized sources), the general public has become much more engaged in copyright policy deliberations.

Polls to Watch

Previously the MP for the riding of Edmonton-Mill Woods-Beaumont, Conservative Mike Lake won his seat in the 2011 General Election with 61% of the popular vote. There is no sign that this voting trend will change for the new riding, and Mr. Lake is expected to win re-election easily.

Liberal Marc Garneau has served as the Member of Parliament for the downtown Montreal riding of Westmount—Ville-Marie since 2008, winning that election by over 9000 votes. He was re-elected to the House of Commons in the 2011 federal election by only 642 votes. Garneau is the Liberal candidate for the new riding of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce–Westmount, which he is expected to win with more than 50% of the popular vote.

Pablo Rodriguez was the Liberal MP for Honoré-Mercier from 2004 to 2011. In the 2011 election Rodriguez was defeated by NDP candidate Paulina Ayala. Rodriguez is again the Liberal candidate for the 2015 General Election and is expected to retake the riding by a comfortable margin.

Geoff Regan is the Liberal candidate and current Member of Parliament for Halifax West, a riding he has represented for 18 years and is expected to win again by a comfortable margin.

Charlie Angus has been the NDP MP for the Ontario riding of Timmins—James Bay since 2004 . He has been the NDP parliamentary critic for Canadian Heritage from 2004 to 2007, and was additionally critic for agriculture from 2004 to 2006. In 2007 he became the critic for Public Works and Treasury Board, as well as the NDP spokesman for digital issues such as copyright and internet neutrality. Angus is expected to be re-elected by a comfortable margin.

Andrew Cash, a Canadian singer-songwriter, was elected in 2011 as NDP MP for the Toronto-area Davenport electoral district. He is in a tough race to be re-elected against first-time Liberal candidate, Julie Dzerowicz.

Paul Dewar is the NDP MP and current candidate for the Ontario riding of Ottawa Centre. Dewar was first elected to the House of Commons in the 2006, and is expected to be re-elected in 2015.