An updated copyright bill that could impose serious penalties for illegal downloading is in limbo amid suggestions the Conservative government is hesitant to introduce the controversial legislation after being stung by public outrage last year.
Minister of Industry Jim Prentice told the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday that he will not introduce the bill, which would bring Canada in line with its World Intellectual Property Organization obligations, until he is satisfied it takes into account the rights of both consumers and copyright holders.
"The key issue is striking the appropriate balance," he said in response to questioning from the NDP. "Be patient."
The National Post reported on Tuesday that Prentice would introduce the bill on Wednesday, while The Globe and Mail cited Ottawa insiders as saying the legislation won't be presented until next week.
Another unnamed source told The Globe that the bill will be left to die when Parliament breaks for its summer session — expected to begin in the middle of the month — because there's no way it will pass under a minority government.
"It's not going to see the light of day," the Ottawa lobbyist said. "Copyright legislation is so contentious in its nature, that for any minority government it is extraordinarily difficult to find a balance that is actually going to have a chance of adoption."
The government has, however, promised several industry groups that the legislation will be introduced before the summer break.
"We've been assured that something will emerge in this session," Duncan McKie, president and chief executive of the Canadian Independent Record Production Association, told The Globe. "But it's obvious that even if the bill were introduced now, there's clearly little time before the summer break to deal with it, so I expect that we won't get to the serious business of discussing the specific issues until this fall."
No date set: Prentice spokesman
A spokesman for Prentice told CBCNews.ca on Wednesday that no date has been set for the bill's introduction.
Prentice delayed plans to introduce the bill in December after a chorus of opposition sprang up to provisions the legislation reportedly contained. The bill was said by experts to mirror the U.S. Digital Millenium Copyright Act, which has drawn considerable criticism south of the border, primarily for opening the door to huge lawsuits by record labels against people who have downloaded music illegally.
The bill was also expected to contain provisions that would have made it illegal to time shift television shows using a Personal Video Recorder, or copy files to CDs and MP3 players.
At the time, more than 20,000 people signed up to a protest group on social networking site Facebook, which has since doubled to more than 40,000 members. A number of prominent Canadian artists including the Barenaked Ladies, Sarah McLachlan and Avril Lavigne opposed restrictive copyright reform through the Canadian Music Creators Coalition, which was at odds with the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists, the official union for Canada's English-language performers. ACTRA has urged Prentice to speed up reformed legislation.
Stoddart also had reservations
In January, Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart also wrote to the government to say that copyright reform should not come at the expense of personal privacy and that companies should not be able to collect information on users without their permission.
The Business Coalition for Balanced Copyright, a group that includes Google, Yahoo, Rogers, Telus, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters and the Retail Council of Canada, among others, also announced its opposition to a U.S.-style DMCA in February.
The coalition said any new copyright legislation should include measures that enshrine the rights of consumers to use in different ways the copyrighted material they buy, as well as companies in their daily business practices.
U.S. groups, however, have also stepped up the pressure on the government to get in line with WIPO obligations. In February, the International Intellectual Property Alliance filed a report to U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab that said Canada was on par with China and Russia in violating U.S. copyright law.