Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Déjà vu All Over Again on Copyright and Canada/US Trade? An Election Issue?

(Government of Canada)

Linking Canadian copyright reform to un-thickening the Canada/US border and getting the USA to honour its NAFTA commitments is coming back again, rather like a bad penny.  Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat, who just over a year ago  appeared rather sympathetic to the American point of view and shielded one of its best lobbyists from close questioning on it, is now suggesting in the current Embassy Magazine that with respect to the current Canada/USA Harper/Obama level talks that:
But there exists several hurdles for Mr. Obama and Mr. Harper. A big element is that the Americans are waiting for Canada to push through new copyright legislation, something the country is getting a reputation for abroad as being lax on, said Mr. Robertson.
It’s not clear why Mr. Robertson would repeat the US lobbyists’ and Government’s  mantra about “copyright legislation, something the country is getting a reputation for abroad as being lax on” without at least somewhat defending Canada. Presumably Mr. Robertson would not wish to be inconsistent with his reluctance to let Ms. Greenwood be questioned about this fallacy in December of 2009.

I have pointed out any number of times that Canada’s copyright legislation is already stronger than US law in at least 21 ways that generate substantial cash flow to the USA. 

Hopefully, Canada will see through this irrational and asymmetrical linkage effort once again. This is truly “Déjà vu All Over Again.” Given other recent developments and the rhetoric, such as that of Colin Robertson now building on the border issue, let us not be surprised if copyright does become an actual election issue.

As to the “Déjà vu All Over Again” aspect, on December 8, 2009 I wrote about the absurd suggestion by big time American lobbyists Scotty Greenwood that all that Canada needs to do to deal with the “Buy American” problem at the time and other trade issues (in which the USA was not honouring its obligations) was to capitulate the USA on its copyright demands. 

There was a very interesting international trade event on The Hill yesterday - very capably and even-handedly hosted by the Hon. Scott Brison, PC., M.P. Lots of MPs, Senators and trade policy types. Some very senior level speakers. Mr. Ignatieff was there listening and said a few words. The Right Honourable Joe Clark, former Prime Minister, was the main keynote lunch speaker and spoke eloquently about Canada-Africa trade, despite inexcusable bungling by the Hill technical people of his slide presentation. He was witty and wise.
Anyway, the highlight for me was the astonishing statement that was made by Maryscott (“Scotty”) Greenwood, who is an energetic figure in on the Canada/US relations front. Among other things, she is Executive Director of the Canadian-American Business Council (“CAB”).
She is also a sometimes controversial lobbyist, who worked for and now with Gordon Giffin, a former US Ambassador to Canada under the Clinton administration from 1997 to 2001.
The CABC is big on such issues as the “Buy American” controversy that is hurting so many Canadian SMEs, such as Hayward Gordon (a 57 year old pump technology company), whose President, John Hayward, spoke so eloquently yesterday.
Greenwood’s remarks unfolded like a slick Hollywood movie leading to an unstoppable, inevitable and unbelievable conclusion.
After a lot of very intelligent talk by her and others about the “Buy American” problem and the long history of Canada/US relations, she said that the solution is very simple.
You could feel the punch line coming when she was concluding her remarks just before questions were taken by indicating that she “loves linkages” (trade policy jargon for the linking of two often unrelated issues, which can result in the giving away of one sector’s interests to benefit another's).
Her conclusion was then a predictable climax, in which she actually came out and said that Canada could solve most if not all of its current trade problems with the USA - and particularly the “Buy American” issue - by simply “fixing copyright.” These problems would then be solved “tomorrow.”

Yep - the Canada/US file is now all about copyright, according to her. All we have to do is do what the US Government and the American lobbyists say. It doesn't matter how wrong the USA may be about “Buy American” and countless other trade irritations. Or even if the USA is the most flagrant scofflaw at the WTO in international copyright law.
Never mind that Canadian copyright law is already stronger and better in more than a dozen ways than US copyright law - some of which provide a lot of money to American interests.
Never mind all of this, we should just do as they say.
So I asked a question - admittedly with something of a preface to set the context - about why Canada would even discuss copyright with the USA when:
• the father of the American father of the DMCA, which is the model we are supposed to follow, (Bruce Lehman) has disowned it;
• there was no evidence of serious counterfeiting and piracy in Canada and no basis for the 301 listing, other than that of a few lobbyists’ recycled back-of-the envelope musings;
• the most obvious source of counterfeit and pirated goods are the street corners of midtown Manhattan; and,
• above all why Canada would be discussing a secret treaty called ACTA that would make the border even more sticky and inefficient than it already is.
The Moderator, Colin Robertson is a DFAIT diplomat who is on loan to the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, which has generally been very supportive of Canadian foreign policy and big business interests.
Mr. Robertson was the first to mention Canada's place on the US piracy list yesterday. He clearly didn't like my question, or the context setting remarks. Ms. Greenwood - to her credit - answered it, however briefly and unsatisfactorily. I didn’t get a follow up. Her answer was that Canada should fix its copyright law in the manner suggested by the USA because this would be better for Canada or words to that effect. Isn't it touching that American lobbyists are so concerned for the best interests of Canada?
Anyway, some influential folks were quite interested in my question and it clearly took many by surprise who were unaware of ACTA, its trade implications, the secrecy attached to it, and the general sensitivity of the copyright account.
Yesterday was clearly another example of US government and entertainment industry lobbying and policy laundering at its finest. Let us hope that some, at least, saw through it.


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