Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Canadian Copyright, Kyoto, Cacaphony, Conflation and Confusion

I have never seen as much pressure, spin, and propaganda on Canadian copyright as I have in the last few months - climaxing in today’s story by John Ibbitson in the Globe and Mail comparing Canadian copyright policy to the Canadian Kyoto imbroglio. He says:

With each failure, American frustrations will grow, along with pressure for linkages -- taking action in other trade areas to punish Canada for failing to pass a new copyright act. What should matter to all of us, though, is Canada's reputation before the world. If the best we can do on this, as on so many other files, is shrug and say, "Sorry, the federal government is too unstable for us to act," what does that say? When did Canada become Italy?

The American music and movie industries are getting hysterical about counterfeiting - while there is no credible evidence that there is any more availability of counterfeit products in Canada than anywhere else. In fact, if what you really want is a fantastic selection of cheap fake Rolex watches or Louis Vuitton handbags, go to New York and just shop till you drop on Canal Street or even right on Fifth Avenue where the street vendors have very good deals on whatever you may wish - just don’t ask for a receipt or a warranty. And don’t ask for the Americans to drop their hypocrisy on this issue.

I can only conclude that there is a very deliberate and highly organized attempt to confuse and conflate counterfeiting and piracy on the one hand with legitimate grey market goods, user and artist friendly fair dealing exceptions and freedom from oppressive DRM and TPMs on the other hand. Credulous journalists and politicians are the targets.

Of course, nobody supports counterfeiting. But broadly attacking it with unnecessarily potent weapons and without proven targets or surgical precision is rather like an aimless war on terrorism and dubiously existing weapons of mass destruction - or in this case weapons of mass distribution. The result will be predictably messy, counterproductive and highly controversial. It could even breed its own insurgency.

The American government and the lobbyists who are pushing it to push Canada wish to preserve business models that no longer work in the digital age. They are seeking to strengthen old copyright laws designed for $25 high margin albums and DVD movies - when the world has moved on to the Internet, Google, iTunes, YouTube and beyond. The Canadian independent music industry understands the difference - and has cut its ties to the four foreign majors on these issues.

Canada meets or exceeds its international legal obligations. Canada has not ratified the 1996 WIPO treaties and is under no obligation to do so. Signing a treaty is like dating. Ratifying is like marriage. We’ve gone on a date with the WIPO treaties. That’s all. Some have urged that we do more. But many observers would seriously question whether it was even a good date or a bad one.

The American copyright industries want an all or nothing ratification approach along the lines of the dreaded American DMCA legislation - an approach taken so far only by the USA and Japan amongst major G8 members. Europe has not ratified these treaties - and the controversies there are growing rather than waning.

The thought of Canada being on the US “priority watch list” falls somewhere between a joke and an honour, as I’ve stated before. The US entertainment industry and the American Government are going straight to the top in Canada over this issue. But Ibbitson correctly points out that this isn’t the same as softwood.

Indeed, in important ways and in the long term, it may be even more serious than softwood. What this is about is political and cultural sovereignty. What’s good for General Motors may once have been good for the USA - and what’s good for the American entertainment industry may indeed still be good for America but has usually not been good for Canada. We simply don’t need a Department of Canadian Heritage if we don’t have any Canadian heritage. Canada needs copyright sovereignty as badly as it needs sovereignty in our Arctic, our army or in our health care system. Let’s hope Canada’s new government takes all the time it needs to get this right - for Canada.


1 comment:

  1. What I'm waiting for is the other brand of shoes to drop: There are US elected representatives that are trying to reform the DMCA to reduce its harmful impacts, and there are Senators that are saying
    Not so fast on the WIPO Broadcast Treaty
    . Given enough of a delay in Canada contemplating the ratification of the controversial 1996 treaties, the pressure from the US elected representatives and US government agencies will not only disappear, but they will be looking to Canada to help them out of the mess their government agencies created through dishonest policy laundering (NII --> WIPO --> DMCA).