Copyright bill finally clears Commons

The Harper government's long-awaited copyright reforms passed a final vote in the House of Commons on Monday night, moving towards changes the heritage minister says are good for consumers, content creators and Canada's trading partners as well.

Act hasn't been updated since 1997, now in Senate's hands to pass before summer

The Harper government's long-awaited copyright reforms have finally cleared the House of Commons.

Bill C-11 passed its final vote at third reading just before 11 p.m. on Monday night, by a vote of 158-135.

The bill was introduced in the Senate immediately, and is expected to speed through all stages of review there, thanks to the Conservative majority. The changes are expected to become law before the start of the summer recess.

The bill has wide implications for the production, sale, distribution and consumption of digital content, including music, video, electronic books and software. It allows consumers to make copies or backups of copyrighted work for personal use, but includes provisions for "digital locks" that would allow rights holders to restrict or prohibit copying, even for personal use.

It also prohibits the circumvention of those digital locks and sets fines for personal violations of copyright.

When C-11 was introduced last fall, Heritage Minister James Moore said he was re-introducing the exact same legislation that died on the order paper when the 2011 federal election was called to take advantage of the hours of committee study that had already gone into reviewing the previous bill.

The legislation was reviewed again by a special Commons committee designated especially for the task of reviewing often complex provisions.

Conservative MPs brought forward eight amendments and used their majority on the committee to pass them. The amendments were mostly technical, in some cases bringing the bill more in line with industry standards.

The Conservatives used time allocation motion for the second time on the bill to advance it through to its final vote on Monday night.

Copyright reforms a trade issue

The reforms have been a long time coming. The Copyright Act hasn't been updated since 1997, before many of the digital technologies now widely-used by Canadian individuals, artists and businesses were even invented.

The slow pace of updating copyright laws in Canada was perceived as an irritant to Canada's trading partners, including the European Union and the United States.

Passage of the bill was seen as an important pre-requisite for Canada's inclusion in the burgeoning Trans-Pacific Partnership.  An announcement about Canada's full participation in TPP negotiations could come at the G20 Summit in Los Cabos, Mexico on Tuesday.

Property rights holders in the U.S. lobbied for C-11 to go even farther than its current provisions, but Moore defends C-11 as striking a reasonable balance between the rights of content creators and users.

Before the final vote on Tuesday, Moore called the changes "great for consumers" and reminded reporters of the artists who had spoken in support of strengthening copyright rules.

"The passage of this copyright legislation is going to be really important for us to continue to expand our opportunities to have more jobs through international trade," the heritage minister said.