Ottawa accused of altering copyright comments

Hundreds of Canadians who have voiced their opinions on copyright reform through letters are having their comments filtered and altered by the government, a prominent internet advocate charges.

Hundreds of Canadians who have voiced their opinions on copyright reform through letters are having their comments filtered and altered by the government, a prominent internet advocate charges.

Industry Canada, which is running the copyright consultation website where all submissions are posted, has not made public the views from 100 to 200 people who wrote letters through the Canadian Coalition for Electronic Rights, according to University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist.

The CCER, a copyright consultation monitoring group, has invited visitors to sign a form letter that urges a fair balance between copyright holders and ordinary consumers in the coming legislation. Visitors can also modify the form letter or write their own from scratch, and then submit it through the CCER.

The modified and original letters, which represent 10 to 20 per cent of the more than 2,000 submitted to Industry Canada, have not been posted and their authors' names were instead added to a single form letter that represents the group.

The same has been happening with another concerned group, the Canadian Private Copying Collective, while a number of letters in French have also not been posted, Geist said.

The omissions are tantamount to altering their comments, said Geist, who has been watching the consultations closely.

Industry Canada defends policy

"Every Canadian who takes the time to speak out — whether a single paragraph, a long essay or a form letter — deserves to have their voice count as a submission," Geist wrote on his blog Thursday.

"Obviously, any modified letter should be posted in its original form and I would argue that the same is true for a submission based on a form letter."

Industry Canada said it was not altering views and was doing its best to post any letters that contain individual opinions on the consultation website.

"Every effort is made to identify variance in the contents of these form submissions. When we receive a form submission which also reflects a personal position, it is posted on the website as a formal submission in its original format," the ministry said in a statement.

Geist told CBC News that individuals who had been added to the CCER form letter were only having their submissions posted to the consultation website after complaining to Industry Canada.

"The government is only fixing it if people speak out, and that's the wrong approach," he said.

A spokesman for Industry Canada said he couldn't immediately comment on the issue.

The government's copyright consultations began in Vancouver in July and will run until Sept. 13, with a major public town hall meeting scheduled for Thursday night in Toronto.

The consultations were arranged after two previous attempts by the government to introduce copyright reform legislation. In both cases, the Conservatives were roundly criticized by opposition parties, businesses and consumers for not consulting with the public.

Overall, aside from the letter omission issue, the consultations have been fair and transparent so far, according to Geist. "There are a lot of good things to be said about it," he said.