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Officials prepare to destroy pirated CDs and DVDs in Beijing. China leads a list of U.S. copyright infringers, with an estimated $2.9 billion in trade lost to piracy in 2007, according to the International Intellectual Property Alliance. ((Color China Photo/Associated Press))

Canada has joined Russia and China as the biggest violators of U.S. copyright law, according to the U.S.-based International Intellectual Property Alliance.

In a report filed to U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab on Monday, the group recommended that Canada join the other two countries on the USTR's Priority Watch List.

Countries on this list are subject to accelerated investigations and possible trade sanctions.

The IIPA said Canada is the only country in the 30-member Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development that has yet to modernize its copyright law or meet the minimum global standards set out in the World Intellectual Property Organization treaty signed in 1996.

"Canada has taken no meaningful steps toward modernizing its copyright law to meet the minimum global standards of the WIPO internet treaties, which it signed more than a decade ago," the report said.

"In 2007, parliamentary leadership and the government, at its highest levels, acknowledged many of these deficiencies and the government listed copyright reform among its top legislative priorities. But these encouraging statements have not yet evolved into anything more concrete."

Other countries named

The group also recommended that 10 other countries be placed on the Priority Watch List, including Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Egypt, India, Mexico, Peru, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Ukraine.

It also recommended that 29 other countries, including Spain, Sweden and Israel, be placed or maintained on the less critical Watch List. A total of 51 countries were named as significant violators.

Schwab's office will release its annual watch lists at the end of April.

Canadian copyright experts said the IIPA's recommendations should be taken with a grain of salt, since the organization has singled out a good number of countries that have trade dealings with the United States.

"It's little more than a lobbying exercise which lacks reliable and objective analysis," said University of Ottawa internet law professor Michael Geist. "With 51 countries, some of which are leaders in Europe and Asia, Canada is in very good company. It almost begs the question — who's the one that's really offside here?"

The IIPA, which says it represents the copyright interests of 1,900 U.S. companies, estimated the United States lost more than $18 billion U.S. in trade through copyright piracy in 2007, up 20 per cent from $15 billion a year earlier.

According to the group, Canada contributed about $511 million of that loss — up from $494 million in 2006 — while China led the pack with a $2.9-billion contribution, up from $2.4 billion.

The group's report is the latest to urge the U.S. government into pressuring Ottawa to reform copyright laws. U.S. ambassador to Canada David Wilkins has repeatedly said Canada's laws are the most lax among G7 nations, while the recording industries on both sides of the border have called for tougher rules.

Minister of Industry Jim Prentice was to introduce a draft bill in December but backed off because of widespread public opposition.

Geist, who has led the opposition against a U.S.-style bill, said the legislation may be introduced as early as this week. Given the government's other priorities, including the upcoming budget and debate over Canada's military involvement in Afghanistan, he said it's unlikely much time has been spent on revising the bill.

"It's more likely they've revised their communications strategy on how to sell it," he said.  

Teachers, musicians, artists, telecommunications companies, retailers, privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart, as well as more than 40,000 members of a Facebook group devoted to the issue have voiced their opposition to what they say was the overly restrictive, U.S.-style legislation that Prentice was expected to table.