Guest post by Michael Geist.
Seven weeks ago, the Canadian government launched the first national copyright consultation since 2001. The consultation, which has featured town hall meetings, by-invitation-only roundtables, an online discussion forum, and an open submission process, has attracted considerable interest with over 4,000 submissions to date.
While the overwhelming majority of those submissions have called for balanced reforms that would strengthen fair dealing, create a liability safe harbour for intermediaries, and link any new anti-circumvention rules to actual copyright infringement, there is reason for concern.
There are only six days left in the consultation and the thousands that have spoken out for fair copyright – the students, teachers, Internet users, software programmers, privacy advocates, librarians, and a growing number of creators – now find themselves under attack from two sides.
On one side stand well-known copyright lobby groups such as the Canadian Recording Industry Association, the Canadian Motion Pictures Distributors Association, and the Entertainment Software Alliance. These groups largely represent foreign interests and have consistently called on the Canadian government to adopt the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act as its legislative model.
They invariably claim that Canada should be embarrassed by the current state of copyright law and propose solutions that involve a combination of DMCA-style anti-circumvention rules, a three-strikes and you’re out system that could see users cut off from the Internet, and a rejection of any new flexibilities within fair dealing.
To support those positions, the groups turned out en masse for a public town hall meeting in Toronto late last month, resulting in multiple interventions from record label executives (four from Warner Music alone). Packing the room ensured that there was virtually nothing heard from education and consumer groups, many of whom could not even attend the town hall since all the tickets were scooped up in less than five days.
Standing on the other side are copyright creator groups such as Access Copyright and the American Federation of Musicians. Access Copyright opened the consultation by ominously warning its members that “users outnumber us” and claiming that the debate is dominated by people do not believe that authors should get fair compensation for digital and other reproductions of their work (so far five out of 4038 submissions have called for the elimination of copyright).
Meanwhile, the American Federation of Musicians circulated an email to creator groups calling a leaflet distributed by an opposition Member of Parliament “disgusting” since it supported stronger fair dealing. These groups are pushing for an expanded levy system and have been quick to criticize users that don’t agree or offer up alternatives.
Faced with these vocal lobbying efforts, Canadians have just a few days left to ensure that their voices are heard. The town halls and roundtables are now over. The best way to speak out is through the online submission process that takes only a few minutes to complete. Authors such as Cory Doctorow and David Collier-Brown, technology companies such as Tucows, and groups such as Project Gutenberg Canada, the Documentary Organization of Canada, the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations have all already done so.
Now is the time for Canadians concerned with copyright to add their voices. Websites such as SpeakOutOnCopyright.ca, CCER.ca, Vancouver Fair Copyright, and Digitalagenda.ca provide tools to learn more about the issues and process submissions. If you already know what you want to say, simply send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Once you have spoken out, tell your friends, send the submission to your local Member of Parliament, and raise awareness that the consultation deadline is Sunday, September 13th.
Many Canadians felt anger and frustration when the government introduced DMCA-style legislation in 2008. The next six days provide a great opportunity to do more than just complain. They offer the chance to help influence the next copyright bill. Don’t wait – speak out on copyright today.
Michael Geist holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law. He can reached at email@example.com or online at www.michaelgeist.ca.