Thursday, July 07, 2022

The Copyright Board Third Town Hall on June 2, 2022: Was This “Three Strikes”?

The Copyright Board of Canada, hosted by the Canadian Bar Association, was given the stage for a third “Town Hall” on June 2nd 2022. Spoiler alert: once again, it was disappointing and mostly devoid of any substance – other than an interesting but very vague hint about how the Board sees possibly increased use of its so-called “arbitration” regime as some kind of response to the SCC’s 2021 decision in the York case that its tariffs are not legally mandatory. There was a follow up CBA event on June 9, 2022 about which I shall blog separately.

I have blogged at some length about the first two town halls in 2019 and 2021.  Expectations for this year's event we're quite low on my part  because there is no apparent evidence that anything significant has happened at the Board since last year. It has held zero hearings in nearly five years, rendered no significant decisions in 2021(with one possible exception noted below) or 2022 other than housekeeping of previous decisions with minor changes and a few “unlocatable” owner decisions of no consequence. It may be observed that it has finally corrected the spelling of “infrigment” [sic] on its website. Moreover, it has finally made almost all (or at least 211 according to CanLII out of 230 according to the Board since 1990) of its decisions searchable and available on CanLII, which is something that could have and should have been done 20 years ago at virtually no cost.

The most recent available Annual Report of the Board for 2020-2021 indicates that:

In spite of these pandemic-related challenges and the slowdown of activities in some industries involved in the rate approval process, the Board’s workload remained significant in 2020-2021. In addition to pending files, the Board received 21 new proposals tariffs submitted on or before October 15, 2020, as stipulated in the new legislative framework, and 21 licence applications for the use of works whose owners cannot be located as per section 77 of the Copyright Act. Also, 110 agreements were filed with the Board pursuant to section 76 of the Act. Finally, in 2020–2021, the Board issued 20 decisions, including two major decisions in complex files: June 26, 2020 SODRAC v. CBC, 2008–2012 [Redetermination] January 27, 2021 SODRAC v. CBC, 2012–2018 [Determination [Sic – this second link is wrong – it’s the same as the previous link] (highlight added)

The new tariff proposals, unlocatable licence applications, and filed agreements would have required a barely minimal “workload”. All of these tariff “decisions”, except two, appear to be rubber stamp repetitions with minor if any variations from previous decisions. The two links provided for the two supposedly “major” decisions are the same, which makes one question whether this report to the Minister was adequately proofread. In any event, these two “major” decisions are probably incomprehensible except perhaps to the lawyers and experts involved. This would appear to be the correct link for the “Determination”.

These two decisions are undoubtedly important to CBC and SODRAC (which is now owned by SOCAN) – and potentially with respect to similar issues arising in the commercial radio and TV worlds. However, the opacity of the reasons to all but a very small number of expert veteran Copyright Board lawyers and consultants is a disappointing departure from the past. The beauty of the common law judicial system is that good judgements on even the most complex issues are normally self-standing and reasonably understandable to any reasonably literate person and certainly to any reasonably knowledgeable lawyer in the field involved and not just the lawyers actually involved. The same should hold true – and usually does – with “expert” tribunals in Canada.

It might be noted that the hearings for these “major” decisions were in September, 2017 but the decisions were not rendered until June 26, 2020 and January 27, 2021 – long after members  Majeau and Landry had retired. They clearly continued for some time to be “seized” of these matters and presumably were paid for their time spent thinking about them. Federal Court and Supreme Court judges, on the other hand, must clear their desks of pending decisions within six months of retirement – and they have far greater case loads that are often much more complex and important.

The Board continues to foster the impression that it has a huge workload and is very productive. This is no doubt nourished by Prof. Jeremy de Beer’s controversial 2015 “statistical” study that parlayed 74 tariffs from 1999-2013 into supposedly 852 tariffs for that period though parsing of paragraphs, division into separate years, etc. This so-called “statistical” analysis  was questionable at the time and has not aged well. My critique of that analysis has not been refuted by anyone, as far as I know. As I further indicated at the time, based upon the Board’s own previous taxonomy and my analysis:

So, if the Board is right, and I am right, then Prof. de Beer’s conclusion that the Board has certified 852 tariffs in the last 15 years is off by a factor of 852 ÷ 74, i.e. ~1,150%. His conclusions that the Board certifies 70 tariffs a year would likewise be off by a factor of 70 ÷ 4.9, i.e. more than 1,400%

The Board has rarely, if ever, issued more than five actual tariffs in a year, and usually even fewer substantively important decisions. In turn, very few of these tariffs are truly new or “inaugural”.  Nonetheless, and do doubt empowered by Prof. de Beer’s study, the Board soon thereafter got a million dollar per annum increase in its annual budget bringing it to about $5 million a year for total expenses. That’s a lot for a Tribunal that hasn’t held a hearing in almost five years and apparently doesn’t adequately proof read its annual report to the Minister.

So, this year’s Town Hall was once again frustrating and disappointing, except for one aspect that may suggest how's the Board will try to find some justification for its continued existence in the face of the “existential” issues raised by the Supreme Court's decision last year in York University v. Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency (Access Copyright), 2021 SCC 32 (CanLII), <>

The first two speakers were the Vice Chair/CEO, Nathalie  Théberge, and Secretary General, Lara Taylor. They said essentially nothing, but did so in a very smooth,  bureaucratic and well rehearsed manner, with several references to their “mighty team”, “Phase I”, “Phase II”, etc. They promised an important forthcoming consultation on new rules, concerning which I’ll have something to say in due course. As I’ve said before, for the first time in the Board's history, neither of the persons occupying these two important positions are lawyers, which is incongruous considering the supposedly quasi-judicial nature of the Board's work in the very esoteric and quintessentially legal field of copyright law.

The somewhat interesting aspect of the remaining time after the long and uninteresting presentation by the Vice Chair and Secretary General was the discussion by its chair, retired Justice Luc Martineau and its general counsel Sylvain Audet. The chair mentioned the Access Copyright case, as he called it which followed the
Canadian Broadcasting Corp. v. SODRAC 2003 Inc., 2015 SCC 57 (CanLII), [2015] 3 SCR 615, <> case “in a certain way” as he put it. There was clearly at least an implicit recognition that the Supreme Court's landmark ruling the copyright board tariffs are not “mandatory” well affect the nature of the Board's work. When I asked in the chat about how it might affect the workload, Maître Audet replied that this “remains to be seen”.

Both gentlemen explicitly suggested that there might be increased utilization of the Boards “arbitration” regime, based up on the 2018 amendments. The Chair noted that there had already previously been 15 arbitrations in the Board's 32 year history.

For my part, I do not see how the 2018 amendments will have any effect on the implications of the Supreme Court's rulings in CBC v. SODRAC and the York case, in both of which I made prevailing arguments. While the legislation may superficially suggest that a tariff applicant can force the party into an arbitration proceeding where they are “unable to agree”, what does that even mean if the user does not have to accept the result of the so-called arbitration? Users in such a situation may conceivably consider simply defaulting or putting in a token case. There have only been 15 uses of the “arbitration” mechanism to date. If anything the CBC v. SODRAC and York cases are likely to reduce its use. There is nothing in the 2018 legislation that would make it more attractive or effectively “mandatory”.

As was suggested, this so-called “arbitration” mechanism may be a useful mechanism where only one or two users are involved and there is a substantial amount of money at stake. However, some users who might be inclined towards so-called arbitration may now see better value by hiring and paying a retired judge or other private arbitrator with actual expertise in copyright or at least intellectual property law and actual serious arbitral experience – especially if the legal or factual issues are complex. These arbitrators are well paid because the most successful of them have the reputation of delivering expert results expeditiously, which frankly is not the case with the Copyright Board in modern times. Whether the Board would bless such a decision would be interesting. In any event, it’s not clear that the Board’s blessing would even be needed, since the result could presumably be “filed” with the Board pursuant to the existing mechanism for filing most agreements.

BTW, in other interesting developments at the Board:

Prof. Adriane Porcin, who was appointed as a part-time member of the Board in September 2022 for a four-year term, resigned in January 2022. She was a Board member with evident academic credentials in copyright law.

At least two prominent collectives have “withdrawn” proposed tariffs in recent months. These are CMRRA-SODRAC Inc. (“CSI”), CMRRA, and COPIBEC (the Quebec counterpart to Access Copyright that was seeking $28 per FTE annually). Could this be related to the SCC’s rulings on “mandatory” tariffs?

I’ll soon post more on the follow up comments by Professors De Beer and Gendreau on June 9, 2022 and the Board’s apparently less than compelling consultation effort regarding the its rules for conduct of its hearings, such as there may be, due on short notice on July 18, 2022.

So, this was the Board’s third time at bat at a CBA Town Hall. Readers can form their own conclusions about whether the Board struck out or maybe somehow will reappear again. If so, let’s hope that they actually have something important and useful to say and/or any actual achievements to speak about.


Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Senate Begins Consideration of Bill C-11

The Senate has now begun an unusual “pre-study” of Bill C-11, the very controversial bill designed to force the internet into the broadcasting framework, and to update the Broadcasting Act and, in the process, give enormous new power to the CRTC. Michael Geist has covered this in terrific detail.

Today, June 22, 2022 he and the Hon. Konrad von Finckenstein, Q.C. testified before the Senate on Transportation & Communication. The video is available here.

Konrad von Finckenstein is a long standing legend in the Canadian public service. He was the lead counsel for the Canada/US Free Trade Agreement in the 1980’s, the Commissioner of Competition, a Federal Court Judge, and the Chair of the CRTC. Nobody else in Canada has such a remarkable breadth of knowledge, experience and policy acumen. He is still very active and contributing in the policy space, e.g. here with Jim Mitchell on May 4, 2022 on Bill C-11.

So, his testimony today was and will be very important. Here is the text of his speaking notes (he was only permitted six minutes) and his Annex, which details five specific amendments included below for convenience:

Annex A


Clause 2 of the bill is  amended by adding the following subsection 2(4)

Exclusion- Minor Online Undertakings

(4) This Act applies only to on line undertakings which have more than 100 000 subscribers in Canada or revenue in excess of 100 million from Canada.


Clause  4 of the Bill is amended by  adding the following subsection 2.1

Limitation on Regulations

2.1 Regulations made under sub section 2 (b)

i)                 apply to on line undertakings with paid subscriptions or embedded advertising that transmit, both their own or commercial content and user generated content, and   

ii)               must be constructed in such a manner that user generated content is not affected.


Clause 3(2) of the bill is amended by adding the following :

(2.1) Paragraph 3(1)d)(i) of the Act is amended by adding the following:

(i.1) reflect and be responsive to the preferences and interests of its audiences;

(i.2) to the extent possible rely on market forces to ensure that Canadians obtain the programming of their choice;


Clause 13 of the Bill is amended  by adding  the following subsection  2.1 to section 11 of the act

2.1 For greater certainty

2.1 Conditions imposed or regulations made by the Commission regarding on line undertakings pursuant to sections 9.1, 10 or 11

1) shall

a)     not compel on line undertakings to change the methods by which they ascertain viewer’s choice

b)     respect viewers choices and leave them unaltered

2) may however require on line undertakings to offer Canadian program alternatives as an addition to viewers’ choices


Clause 14 of the bill is amended by adding the following after s.11.1 (5)

Eligibility to Benefits

(5.1) Where a foreign owned online undertaking is required pursuant to section 11.1 to pay an expenditure to a person or organization, or into any fund, that undertaking shall be eligible to the benefits available from any such person, organization or fund as if it were Canadian owned and controlled.

Today's hearing was off to a great start - and the Senate will hopefully provide the sober, second and thorough democratic consideration and necessary revision to the proposed legislation that Minister Pablo Rodriquez has denied in the House of Commons.



Monday, May 30, 2022

The York University v. Access Copyright Case: Reflections and What Lies Ahead


Prof. Ariel Katz and I were joint keynote speakers at the recent ABC Copyright Conference that took place virtually at Western University May 25-27, 2022. We spoke about the changes in the copyright landscape over the past decade, the challenges that lie ahead, and how to respond to them.

Last year, the Supreme Court of Canada (“SCC”) delivered its unanimous landmark decision, per Abella, J., in the case of York University v. Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency (Access Copyright), 2021 SCC 32 (CanLII).   The SCC agreed with the intervention I made on behalf of the Canadian Association of Research Libraries and with Prof. Katz’s intervention (together with Authors Alliance) as presented by Sana Halwani and ruled that:

·         Access Copyright’s tariff as approved by the Copyright Board is not mandatory for users

·         It was unnecessary and inappropriate to issue a declaration about fair dealing in the circumstances of that case

·         Nonetheless, there were serious errors in the Courts below noted concerning their pronouncements about fair dealing, e.g. re “aggregate” copying.

Ariel and I have had a lot to say about the York University case and its lead up over the last 11 years or so, as documented in our various many blogs. Ariel’s brilliant “Spectre I”  and “Spectre II” papers have been very influential in the outcome and were cited by the SCC, along with my own 1999 paper about an alternative collective to Access Copyright.

The victory that we helped to achieve on behalf of the educational sector is now imperiled by heavy lobbying and, sadly indeed, significant misinformation spread by those would wish to limit fair dealing in the educational sector or even more generally and to make Copyright Board tariffs mandatory.

The educational sector can and must resist this lobbying and prevent the unravelling of their victory by lobbyists and by lies.

This is a winnable fight because several truths support the educational sector’s position and practices:

  • Educational institutions’ approach to fair dealing does not hinge on the 2012 amendments to the Copyright Act but are based on three Supreme Court decisions that interpreted the law before the 2012 amendment took effect (BTW, Ariel and I made an influential intervention in the Alberta case)
  • Two recent Supreme Court decisions, based on sound legal reasoning and policy considerations, holding that “mandatory” tariffs are not mandatory for users
  • The USA has hard-wired “teaching including multiple copies for classroom use” into its law in 17 USC 107 since 1976
  • The USA does not have “mandatory” tariffs
  • The long standing law in the USA underscores that fact that Canada provides equal if not better copyright protection to creators than the country from which much of the pressure to amend Canadian law to the detriment of innovation generally and the educational sector in particular is emanating
  • The Canadian education sector is spending hundreds of millions a year or more on direct licensing, acquisitions, and the creation of OER material. The fact that this money does not flow through Access Copyright is the result of the emergence of a modern and innovative marketplace that serves educational institutions much more efficiently that Access Copyright’s inefficient, obsolete, and redundant business model.
  • The material used in higher education is written predominantly by academics in Canada or elsewhere and not by authors of poetry, short stories or novels.
  • In most cases when Canadian literature is included in a syllabus, the students are expected to buy the work—and they do.
  • The publishing sector is doing well, and academic publishers are doing extremely well – even in spite of COVID. If there are any hard cases out that there that truly merit and need support, Canada has a long record of providing subsidies in the cultural sector. The Canada Council, for example, has existed since 1957.

So, Ariel and I were honored to present our keynote talks at ABC which are available here:

        Howard Knopf ABC Keynote May 25, 2022

        Ariel Katz ABC Keynote May 25, 2022

These slide shows contain multiple useful links in support of the above.

Thank you to ABC for the opportunity to make this presentation.


Sunday, May 08, 2022

WIPO Broadcasting Treaty: Could - or Should - Canada Make a Difference?

The idea of a Broadcasting Treaty has been kicking around at WIPO  for almost 25 years. I have frankly always regarded it as a solution in search of a problem. As always, my views here are purely personal.

The 42nd (yes – forty second) Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (“SCCR”) meeting is about to take place in Geneva from May 9-13, 2022. The eminent authority Bernt Hugenholtz aptly calls this “Groundhog Day in Geneva” in a paper that is a must read.

The architecture of broadcasting, transmission, retransmission, and just about everything  concerning the internet itself has changed in countless ways since 1996.

Yes – there has been some “piracy” since then, depending upon how “piracy” is defined by increasingly aggressive copyright litigants and increasingly receptive maximalist courts. But there has been no crisis. Broadcasters, transmitters, retransmitters, content owners and various intermediaries are doing better than ever, and vertical and horizontal integration continue to converge power in the hands of fewer and fewer and ever more internally conflicted entities. None of these converged powers any longer are remotely proxies for the interests of educators, scholars, students, libraries and billions of consumers who are paying more, getting less, and seeing increasing government control over all of this.

Here is the latest draft text of the proposed treaty.

It appears that the Canadian delegation attending in Geneva next week will be:



Owen RIPLEY (Mr.), Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Department of Canadian Heritage, Gatineau


Samuel GENEROUX (Mr.), Senior Policy Analyst, International Copyright, Canadian Heritage, Gatineau


Jamie ORR (Ms.), Policy Analyst, Canadian Heritage, Ottawa

It is understood. but not readily understandable, that the Innovation, Sciences & Economic Development department (formerly Industry and formerly Consumer & Corporate Affairs) (“ISED”) will be involved only virtually. The absence of ISED from personal attendance at an important meeting at WIPO is extraordinary. For decades, ISED had the lead role in international relations. Once upon a time, for several years, I was the “head of delegation” at such WIPO meetings on behalf of the then Consumer & Corporate Affairs Department, as it was called before its rebranding as ISED.  However, ISED now seems sadly to be Missing In Action (“MIA”) in all matters related to copyright, the internet, broadcasting, communications, etc. The Ministers of both ISED and Heritage are both Francophones from Quebec, a “civiliste” Canadian province with varying degrees of nationalist ambitions and separatist tendencies over the years and excessive political influence and where copyright and culture have usually been conflated, elevated and confused well beyond the norms of the common law canon.

One is hearing from various sources that Owen Ripley, who has had a remarkably rapid series of promotions at Canadian Heritage despite some controversy, after which he was actually futher promoted, for being too “chummy” with industry, is being touted by Canada to be the next Chair of the SCCR. This could in turn lead to even greater things – as the current DG of WIPO, Darren Tang can attest. He was chair of the SCCR just prior to his appointment as top official at WIPO.

Mr. Ripley, who was called to the bar only 12 years ago, has been extensively lobbied by “maximalists”,  He had presumably had a leading role in the very controversial recent Canadian Bills C-11 (regulating the internet as broadcasting), C-18 (taxing Google etc. for linking to news media), the forthcoming Online Harms initiative and the inclusion  in the recent 2022 Federal Budget of:

  •         Terms extension of 20 years with no provision for a mitigating registration system, notwithstanding suggestions by former US Register of Copyright Maria Pallante (always a champion of publishers and content owners) and Canada’s current Minister of Justice, David Lametti, PC., MP, when he was a copyright law professor at one of Canada’s leading law schools
  •         Potentially disastrous references to forthcoming legislation that could:

o   Eliminate “education” as a fair dealing purpose – notwithstanding that teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use) has been hardwired into the US Copyright Act since 1976 

o   Undo the Supreme Court of Canada’s two decisions declaring that Copyright Board tariffs are not mandatory for users – notwithstanding that there are no “mandatory” tariffs or anything remotely equivalent in the USA.

Needless to say, none of this belongs in a “Budget” package – let alone legislation – where it will receive virtually no parliamentary scrutiny. Moreover, the current minority Liberal Government has been immunized from criticism by what is effectively a coalition without benefits with the second so-called opposition party and the lack of any adequate current or likely leadership from the main opposition party.

Bottom line

The maximalist agenda is thriving in Canada. I can frankly not remember any batch of such extreme and unwise bills and policies  in my four decades of involvement or historically at any time before.

If Mr. Ripley becomes the Chair of the SCCR, which obviously would be with blessing of the Canadian government, one can be assured that he would very competently and quickly promote a very maximalist “Broadcasting Organizations Treaty”. This would be welcomed by broadcasters (whatever that term means anymore), content owners, intermediaries and other corporate interests. Not so much by users everywhere. It will be very interesting to see how the developing countries - who are in the majority at WIPO -  line up on this.


PS - as tweeted by @Jamie_Love on May 9, 2022: "WIPO #sccr42 has decided to split the Chair by year. Aziz Dieng from Senegal for 2022. Owen Ripley from Canada for 2023. Peter Labody from Hungary, vice-chair of SCCR 42. It was an unusually contested election, Group B v the Africa group. Still no female SCCR chair."

- as tweeted on May 9, 2022 by @ThiruGeneva: "#SCCR42 agrees that Mr. Aziz Dieng will assume the chair of the committee until #SCCR43 (in 2023). Mr. Labody will remain vice-chair until 2024. Mr. Ripley will be vice-chair until 2023; in 2023 he will assume the chair of SCCR until 2024."

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Oops! He Did It Again: Budget 2022 Hides Copyright Time Bomb By Throwing Parliamentary Scrutiny Under the Omnibus Bus


(Merriam Webster)

There is a ticking time bomb buried deep in the 2022 Federal Budget. It is deviously hidden at page 274 in Annex 3 in a manner so as to avoid detection, debate and the democratic process itself. This is contrary to a basic campaign promise Justin Trudeau made in 2015. It saddens me to say that he and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, both in process and substance, appear to have caved in to greedy lobbyists to the detriment of democracy.

In 2015, Justin Trudeau made a campaign promise to do better than Stephen Harper, who it will be recalled gave away an extra gratuitous 20 years of copyright protection for nothing in return to the American recording industry in an omnibus bill just before he lost the 2015 election:

We will not resort to legislative tricks to avoid scrutiny.

Stephen Harper has used prorogation to avoid difficult political circumstances. We will not.

Stephen Harper has also used omnibus bills to prevent Parliament from properly reviewing and debating his proposals. We will change the House of Commons Standing Orders to bring an end to this undemocratic practice.

 Justin Trudeau broke that promise in 2018 – and, oops, he’s done it again even more blatantly and harmfully in Budget 2022 where he and Minister Freeland announced  in a manner that only those who knew what to look for would find:

Amendments to the Copyright Act

In Budget 2022, the government proposes to introduce amendments to the Copyright Act to extend the general term of copyright protection from 50 to 70 years after the life of the author as agreed under the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement.

The government is committed to ensuring that the Copyright Act protects all creators and copyright holders. As such, the government will also work to ensure a sustainable educational publishing industry, including fair remuneration for creators and copyright holders, as well as a modern and innovative marketplace that can efficiently serve copyright users.

 That may sound abstruse, abstract, irrelevant or maybe even positive to most Canadians who naively or, for selfish financial reasons, think that, if copyright is good, more and stronger copyright must be even better. However, those who understand these issues know that it will “tax” and harm all those concerned about education, research, culture, innovation, learning, science, and creativity itself. After all, the entire history of the arts, science and culture is built upon achievements from the past. If that past is locked up too long, there will be less progress in the future.

This is a flagrant yet stealthy insult to democracy. By using omnibus budget implementation legislation, there will be nothing but token and extremely little if any debate or parliamentary scrutiny on these measures. Any hope of opposition is lost since Canada no longer has a viable opposition party that can do its job in a minority parliament. The NDP’s ill-conceived three year peace, silence and non-aggression pact with Justin Trudeau, which has likely guaranteed its own irrelevance and perhaps even oblivion in the future, will ensure that there is no effective opposition to this budget or the massive omnibus implementation bill that can soon be expected.  

All Canadians, ranging from pre-schoolers to the most senior scholars and creators, whether interested in innovative science and research or just plain fun reading, music listening, film or art enjoyment will be deprived of access to the “public domain” for an additional 20 years (meaning life + 70) going forward. Assuming that the law takes effect on January 1, 2023, that would include the likes of foreign luminaries such as Noel Coward, Pablo Picasso, J.R. Tolkien, Leonard Bernstein and  John Lennon  and Canadian icons such s  Northrop Frye, Yousuf Karsh, Marshall McLuhan, Lester B. Pearson, and Pierre Trudeau himself. It will be good news for certain publishers, other copyright content owners such as foreign movie and music industry multinationals, collectives and their executives, lobbyists and – of course and as always – lawyers for all of the above. It will cost the Canadian public at least about $474 million a year with a present value of about $4.176 billion, based upon my admittedly facile extrapolation to the Canadian context from a careful study conducted for the Government of New Zealand in 2009 in contemplation of the ill-fated TPP.

This amendment will be a one way ratchet that cannot conceivably ever be undone. As framed in the budget, it ignores the recommendations from many experts including Prof. David Lametti, as he then was before he was elected and became Minister of Justice, and Maria Pallante, the former Register of Copyrights in the USA,  that there be mandatory registration to take advantage of the 20 year extension. This would clear away dead wood and still allow commercial interests to exploit works that still have a market value. Here’s my submission from the so-called consultation process, which has apparently been ignored along with those of many other well-known copyright scholars. If the Government can’t figure out how to implement a registration system at this time, it can at least enable the enactment of registration regulations by the Governor in Council. Such a deferral of details does not require rocket science.

The hidden budget time bomb signals that we can expect this and potentially other even worse copyright measures to be included very soon in an omnibus bill that will receive virtually no parliamentary scrutiny and be immune from the usual bulwarks of democracy that Justin Trudeau and Chrystia Freeland have deemed dispensable. This is nothing if not ironic and frankly shocking – though hardly surprising given Trudeau’s past record.

What is even worse in the copyright proposals in Budget 2022 is the second paragraph that suggests, in coded but fairly explicit terms to those in the know, the promise to remove “education” as a recognized fair dealing purpose in s. 29 of the Copyright Act. It sadly seems that the responsible Minsters Champagne & Rodriguez are unaware that “teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research” has been hardwired into American copyright legislation as an essential example of  “fair use” since 1976. They are probably unaware that three decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada since 2004 on fair dealing were rendered before “education” was explicitly included in s. 29 of the Copyright Act in 2012. I was involved in one of these. They are probably unaware that the repertoire of Access Copyright, who has been doing most of the whining, has very little place in Canada’s colleges and universities. Engineering, accounting, psychology and almost all other post post-secondary students are not required to read Margaret Atwood.

But that’s not all, as they say on TV commercials. Included and still even worse and nearly explicit, given the context,  is the promise to make Copyright Board tariffs mandatory for users.  All of this would undo two Supreme Court of Canada decisions from 2015 and 2021 in which I also had a direct and influential role as counsel working with Prof. David Lametti, as he then was, along with Prof. Ariel Katz in the first case (CBC v. SODRAC).  CARL was my client in the later case of York v. Access Copyright where our intervener arguments prevailed.

The result of such an amendment would be an affront to the Supreme Court and a century or more of legislative history. This would roughly be the equivalent of legislating that nobody has the right to get from Ottawa to Toronto except by flying on Air Canada – unless they pay Air Canada’s fare for an all-year Canada-wide pass  or even for a multi-year period even if they never actually travel from Ottawa to Toronto that year. In turn, that fare would be set by a small, very expensive, very inefficient, and extremely dysfunctional Federal tribunal which takes as much as a decade to render usually retroactive and frequently decisions that are routinely reversed in the courts. In this case, that would be the Copyright Board, which was deemed “dated, dysfunctional and in dire need of reform” by a Senate committee in 2016 and which has seen no significant improvements since then despite a very large increase in its budget. Indeed, the Board has not even held a hearing in almost five years since September, 2017 with nothing scheduled until October 18, 2022 and its website has become even worse, despite enormous expenditures.

This will not be the first time that Trudeau has played this Harper trick.  
Bill C-86
, which was given first reading on October 29, 2018, was 884 pages long. It was an omnibus budget implementation bill that touched innumerable issues unrelated to an concept of “budget” and amended dozens of acts unconnected with the budget. It caused much mischief in trade-marks law and launched the College of Patent and Trademark Agents, an expensive solution in search of a problem imposed with great expense upon already highly regulated law firms for no good reason. In turn, even C-86  was not the first Liberal omnibus bill that that broke that important campaign promise.  It followed Bill C-74 earlier in 2018, being the first budget implementation  bill in that sad year.

Sadly, at this time, the NDP has muzzled itself. And the Conservatives can hardly be expected to criticize the same undemocratic methodology that they themselves perfected under Harper.

It is time for Canadians and the organizations that profess to be concerned with education, research, culture and innovation in Canada to demand democracy and transparency when it comes to potential enactment of major deleterious legislation that is so detrimental to the public interest.

Prof. Adam Dodek, the former Dean of Common law at the University of Ottawa, has written an important article about the legal, including constitutional, issues that could potentially arise from the use and abuse of omnibus legislation.

It is absolutely essential in an age where democracy is under threat everywhere, potentially even in Canada, to ensure that legislation is dealt with democratically and not be thrown under the omnibus bus.


PS: Here's a very important open letter to Ministers dated April 13, 2022 from 25 top IP scholars about these issues and the process.