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.