University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist has attacked the form and content of a Conference Board of Canada report advocating tighter copyright rules.

Copyright is a contentious issue in the digital universe, and the Conservative government has had a hard time finding a way to update Canada's law without drawing stiff opposition from digital advocates, including Geist.

The last version of the bill, which could have imposed serious penalties for illegal downloading, died when the government dissolved Parliament before the Oct. 14, 2008, election. During the campaign, the Conservatives said they would reintroduce copyright reform.

The Conference Board report, published last week, came out ahead of a board conference on copyright set for Friday.

Land of illegal downloading

The board promoted the report with a news release saying "Canada's failure to strengthen intellectual property rights in the face of digital technology has given it an unwelcome reputation as the file-swapping capital of the world."

Because of "lax regulation and enforcement," internet piracy is rising in Canada, the board said. "The estimated number of illicit downloads (1.3 billion) is 65 times higher than the number legal downloads (20 million), mirroring the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development's conclusion that Canada has the highest per capita incidence of unauthorized file-swapping in the world," the board said.

But in a posting on his blog Monday, Geist — a professor who writes frequently about internet copyright issues — said the downloads claim is based on extrapolated data from a 2006 survey, and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development study  "did not reach" the conclusion the board said it did.

Moreover, Geist said the board based its information on material previously published by the International Intellectual Property Alliance, "the primary movie, music, and software lobby in the U.S."

He said the board report was funded by pro-copyright groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Canadian Anti-Counterfeiting Network and  Copyright Collective of Canada.

He also said the board had copied parts of its report from a property alliance report.

The board responded with a posting on its website Tuesday, saying it "stands behind its findings" and acknowledging a failure to attribute material in one instance. "We have corrected the missing citation in the report and we apologize for the oversight," the board said.

The report was a piece of contract research, and the board "does not disclose the terms of its contracts without permission of the client."

It also acknowledged "that some of the cited paragraphs closely approximate the wording of a source document."

The report's recommendations closely mirrored those advocated by the property alliance.

Both suggested:

  • Protecting measures aimed at preventing unauthorized copying.
  • Outlawing devices that enable such copying.
  • Providing strong civil and criminal penalties for violations.
  • Carefully defining exceptions to the rules.

Tougher rules and more enforcement are needed "to protect new knowledge and shore up Canada's poor innovation record," the board said.

Its report "reviewed the full spectrum of arguments surrounding the issue of intellectual property rights in Canada. The final report includes those arguments considered most relevant to the policy under review."