Consumer groups have challenged the government's assertion that regular Canadians support its recently introduced copyright reform legislation with a strongly worded letter to Heritage Minister James Moore.
In an exchange with MP Carole Lavallée in the House of Commons on Monday, Moore said the controversial legislation — which contains a key clause that would ban the breaking of digital locks placed on electronic media and devices — had the support of both copyright holders and consumers.
"This bill is good for both groups. An organization that my colleague knows well, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, does act in consumers' best interests," Moore said in response to Ms. Lavallée, the Bloc Québécois MP for Saint-Bruno–Saint-Hubert.
"According to the chamber, Bill C-32 is an important step toward maintaining a competitive, thriving economy. Bill C-32 is a monumental and essential measure that will go a long way toward maintaining a stable and competitive business environment in Canada."
In a letter to the minister dated Tuesday, the Canadian Consumer Initiative — which represents the Consumers Council of Canada, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, Option consommateurs and Union des consommateurs — affirmed that the groups oppose the digital lock provisions in Bill C-32.
"The Canadian Chamber of Commerce is a business lobby group that in no way represents consumer interests, and in fact opposes the position of consumer groups on copyright policy," the letter said. "We invite you to meet with any of our member groups to learn how Bill C-32’s digital lock provisions undermine Canadian consumer interests."
Digital locks opposed by public, groups say
The consumer groups also pointed out that they issued a joint statement on June 4, two days after Moore and Industry Minister Tony Clement unveiled Bill C-32, in which they condemned the digital lock provisions.
"The legislation’s protection of digital locks will be detrimental to Canadian consumers and eliminate many of their rights with respect to copyright." the statement said. "It opens the door to the loss by consumers of the kind of durable lifetime access to purchased content traditionally associated with books, for example."
In correspondence with CBC News over Twitter, Moore reaffirmed that the legislation had support from all quarters.
"Bill C-32 has broad and deep support from across Canada, including students, consumers, provincial ministers, the software industry, the music, film and TV industries, small businesses, chambers of commerce, photographers," he said. "Our legislation is balanced and has strong support."
The Chamber of Commerce did not immediately respond to the consumer groups' letter.
According to its website, the chamber represents 350 smaller chambers and 175,000 businesses over all. The chamber receives funding from membership fees, which are partly decided by the size of the company.
The proposed legislation received praise from many parties when it was introduced for attempting to appease all interested stakeholders. Bill C-32 contains provisions that will expressly legalize many common activities that are murky under existing law, such as recording television programs and shifting media from one format to another. The bill also expands the exceptions for fair dealing, where copyright infringement is allowable for certain non-commercial uses, for purposes such as parody and satire.
Bill C-32 also limits the penalties for copyright infringement to $5,000 for individuals and proposes a notice-and-notice system where internet providers would relay warnings on behalf of copyright holders to customers who are infringing. Copyright holders would be able to take legal action against such infringement, but ISPs would not be required to terminate customers' internet access, a step that some countries are moving toward.
Critics, however, said that many of the permissions granted by C-32 would be trumped by the ban on breaking digital locks. Some said the bill needs to allow the breaking of locks for non-commercial purposes.
"The only rights you will get under this bill are those that U.S.-based entertainment concerns decide you get," NDP copyright critic Charlie Angus said. "If the technological protections override those rights, then you have no rights."
Critics have also taken shots at a new website, BalancedCopyrightForCanada.ca, that supports Bill C-32. University of Ottawa professor and copyright advocate Michael Geist said the site is an example of "astroturfing," or a fake grassroots organization set up by the industry to give the appearance of public support. On his blog, Geist said the effort is "almost certainly led" by the Canadian Recording Industry Association.
CRIA did not return a request for comment. The site does not disclose who is behind it.