Conservatives seek support on copyright

The Conservative minority government is looking to recruit allies across the Commons floor to deal with an expected public campaign against new copyright legislation.
Federal Conservatives are looking for support in their second try at passing a new copyright act. ((iStock))
The Conservative minority government is looking to recruit allies across the Commons floor to deal with an expected public campaign against new copyright legislation.

Industry Minister Tony Clement told The Canadian Press on Sunday he's counting on co-operation from one or more of the opposition parties.

"I'm not coming down from the mountain with this chiselled in stone," Clement said.

"This bill may have elements in it where we could seek some consensus and there could be some positive amendments to this bill. That's certainly in the realm of possibility too, and let the process begin."

The bill is expected to be introduced Thursday, but critics are already lining up to oppose it.

Sources have said the legislation will make it a crime to override a "digital lock" attached to a piece of music, film, electronic game or other product. For example, breaking the copyright code on a song to burn it to a CD would be illegal.

However, format shifting — moving digital material around from, say, a CD to an iPod, or burning from a personal video recorder, or PVR, to a DVD — will be considered legal for personal use as long as no digital lock is picked. 

Impossible to please everyone

That doesn't sit well with many vocal proponents of user rights, who say big entertainment multinationals will be given too much sway over what Canadians do in their own homes, with their personal property.

When the Conservatives last tried to introduce changes two years ago, a massive online campaign erupted to oppose it and they were forced back to the drawing board, striking cross-country consultations and going back and forth within cabinet.

The legislation will also tinker with the definition of "fair dealing" and is expected to make it somewhat easier for academic institutions to use copyrighted material without breaking the law.

The bill will also be technologically neutral, avoiding references to specific methods of recording or using material so that it won't become quickly outdated.

Clement stresses there will be nods to both the creators of copyrighted material in the legislation, and to the consumer. But he concedes it's difficult to please everyone.

It's the Conservatives' second try at passing a new copyright act.

"Any bill worth its salt in this is going to have elements that strive to balance those interests, and not everybody's going to like where the balance is going to be struck," Clement said.

Industry Minister Tony Clement. ((Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press))
"That's why this bill is going to be thoroughly discussed and debated. ... I would just urge people to wait for the bill and read the bill, and they can make up their own minds."

Government and industry insiders told The Canadian Press last week that the Conservatives are considering sending the bill to a special legislative committee over the summer.

While they might get some leeway from the Liberals, who also grappled unsuccessfully with trying to change the law while in government, the NDP is expected to give them a rough ride.

An NDP push to impose a levy on iPods to compensate music creators was aggressively rejected by the Conservatives this spring.

Pressure coming from E.U. and U.S.

Copyright is an all-around pain in the neck for politicians, who can't seem to find any domestic political advantage to making changes. The real pressure on the Conservatives is to appease the Americans and Europeans, who view Canada as a rogue for not having brought its laws into line with the rest of the international community.

Clement said it no longer makes any sense for the country to have laws that were last changed when Betamax tapes were still available at video stores.

"This is such a change for Canada on an issue that affects innovators and consumers, and has an important role to play in our aspirations for an innovative economy," he said. "We really should have most elements of Parliament on our side, that's the only way we're going to achieve the consensus needed to move forward."