Canadian legislators plan to introduce restrictive new copyright legislation similar to the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act, possibly as soon as next month, according to law professor and copyright expert Michael Geist. Citing conversations with sources inside the Canadian government, Geist says the proposed bill is likely to be a virtual carbon copy of an earlier version that was withdrawn, in part, due to a vociferous Facebook campaign against it — a campaign that, notably, Prof. Geist himself was instrumental in launching. He said the proposed new legislation could become “the most anti-consumer copyright bill in Canadian history.”
Geist, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, claims government sources have told him that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office (PMO) set the direction of the new bill earlier this week, after two senior ministers — Heritage Minister James Moore and Industry Minister Tony Clement — couldn’t reach a consensus as to what form the bill should take, and how strict it should be. Moore reportedly wanted a much more draconian version of the legislation, with few exemptions for activities such as format-shifting or fair use (known in Canada as “fair dealing”), while Clement wanted the bill to take a more flexible approach. In a blog post today, Geist wrote:
With mounting pressure from the U.S. – there have repeated meetings with senior U.S. officials in recent weeks – the PMO sided squarely with Moore’s vision of a U.S.-style copyright law. The detailed provisions will be negotiated over the coming weeks by the respective departments, but they now have their marching orders of completing a bill that will satisfy the U.S. that comes complete with tough anti-circumvention rules and no flexible fair dealing provision.
Geist’s description of what the bill contains can’t be confirmed because it hasn’t been introduced yet. A spokesman for Moore noted this in a comment to the CBC, saying “people ought not to judge the legislation that they have not read.”
The Harper government tried to introduce a bill in 2007 that would bring Canada’s copyright legislation up to date with digital advancements such as downloading, streaming and file-sharing, but the legislation was criticized by many — including some members of the governing Conservative party — as too restrictive, and there were allegations that the government had caved in to pressure from multinational content producers, including the movie industry and major record companies. Prof. Geist started a Facebook group in protest, which quickly accumulated tens of thousands of fans, and the government later withdrew the legislation.
After shelving the bill, the Harper government held a series of consultations with the public and various interest groups about what course the copyright law should take. Geist now says that this process “appears to have been little more than theater, with the PMO and Moore choosing to dismiss public opinion.” He also warned that such legislation, if it does come to pass, will undoubtedly impact the ongoing global discussions over ACTA (the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement), which Geist analyzed in a recent guest post for GigaOM. Meanwhile, Cory Doctorow, a Canadian author, copyright activist and editor at tech culture blog BoingBoing, said that reintroducing a restrictive DMCA-style bill would show the government’s “utter contempt for public opinion.”