Canada's Public Consultation on Copyright

Canada’s Copyright Act was enacted in 1924. It went through a series of changes throughout 1990s, with the last amendment being in 1997. In 2001 the Federal government initiated a public consultation but it went nowhere. The last two attempts of the government to modify the act were in 2005 and 2007 when the Federal government introduced bills C-60 and C-61 respectively. Neither bills made it into law and the latter, bill C-61, was criticized for lacking public consultation.

In response, the Canadian Federal government has launched a nationwide consultation on copyright modernization. The consultation started on July 20th 2009 and is to be concluded by September 13th 2009. The aim of the consultation, as stated by Minister Clement and Minister Moore, is  “to ensure that all perspectives are taken into account in an open and transparent process, to help deliver new legislation in the Fall that is forward-looking, reflects Canadian values, and strengthens Canada’s ability to compete in the global digital economy.” The public discussion revolves around issues such as:

  •       “How do Canada’s copyright laws affect you? How should existing laws be modernized?”,
  •       “Based on Canadian values and interests, how should copyright changes be made in order to withstand the test of time?”,
  •       “What sorts of copyright changes do you believe would best foster innovation and creativity in Canada?”
  •       “What sorts of copyright changes do you believe would best foster competition and investment in Canada?”, and
  •       “What kinds of changes would best position Canada as a leader in the global, digital economy?”.

The consultation includes a series of roundtable and townhall meetings. Public voices can be heard through an online submission centre and online discussion forums. In addition the multimedia centre will provide audio and video transcripts of the townhall and roundtable meetings.

The consultation strategy has been criticized for its “by invitation only” meetings and bad timing. According to Howard Knopf, the short notification given to stakeholders regarding the consultation may prevent certain groups who are not “full-time copyright lobbyists or copyright focussed special interest trade associations or collectives” to put forward their submissions. Furthermore, he argues that it may not be possible for the government to pass legislation by Christmas, if the consultation is to be concluded by mid September.

Michael Geist, Canada’s Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at University of Ottawa, views the consultations as a “tremendous opportunity to get it right”, yet he warns that “the same interests that pushed so hard for C-61 will be back and could push for even tougher laws.”

Glen Bloom from Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP, in an event hosted by IP Osgoode, lectured on “The Evolution of Copyright Reform in Canada”. In his speech, he provided guidelines for effective copyright reform, advising that thoughtful analysis and principles supplemented with balanced voices from outsiders should drive the reform process. He favoured an approach that would move away from focusing on interest groups to drive development in the early stages. (You can see Glen Bloom’s lecture here (Windows Media Video) and read a post covering the lecutre here). However, arguably it may not be possible with the current economy and political system to not involve interest groups in the early stages.

Thus, to me, the government’s actions seem well intended and they do allow for Canadians to provide feedback as to what they want to see in the new copyright legislation. However, I, like others, am concerned about the short time span between the end of the consultation and the plan to pass the law by the end of this fall and the fact that the government may be rushed to make its decisions.