Conservatives pledge to reintroduce copyright reform

The Conservatives are promising to reintroduce controversial copyright-reform legislation if they are re-elected, according to the party's official platform released on Tuesday.

The Conservatives are promising to reintroduce controversial copyright-reform legislation if they are re-elected, according to the party's official platform released on Tuesday.

"A re-elected Conservative government led by Stephen Harper will reintroduce federal copyright legislation that strikes the appropriate balance among the rights of musicians, artists, programmers and other creators and brings Canada's intellectual property protection in line with that of other industrialized countries, but also protects consumers who want to access copyright works for their personal use," the platform document says.

"We will also introduce tougher laws on counterfeiting and piracy and give our customs and law enforcement services the resources to enforce them. This will protect consumers from phoney and sometimes dangerous products that are passed off as reliable brand-name goods."

The Conservatives' previous copyright-reform legislation, Bill C-61, which died on the order paper when the election was called, was released in June to a wave of criticism. While a number of organizations that represent copyright holders, such as the Canadian Recording Industry Association and the Entertainment Software Association of Canada, praised the plan, it was roundly criticized as unfair by consumer advocates, artists, privacy watchdogs, education groups and other businesses.

The legislation proposed hefty fines for people caught downloading copyrighted materials but also made it illegal for consumers to work around locks — known as digital rights management — placed on media.

Minister of Industry Jim Prentice said the reforms struck a balance between the needs of copyright holders and consumers, but critics said a number of loopholes, particularly the digital locks provision, skewed the rules heavily against average Canadians.

"There's a fine line between protecting creators and a police state," Liberal industry critic Scott Brison told at the time.

Prentice was also criticized for not consulting consumer groups in drafting the legislation and was accused of caving to lobbying by the U.S. entertainment industry.

Facebook protest delayed legislation

The Conservatives had planned to introduce the proposed legislation last December but backed off after its purported details were leaked. A protest group on social-networking website Facebook, started by University of Ottawa internet law professor Michael Geist, drew tens of thousands of members within days of launching, forcing Prentice to retreat.

On his website two weeks ago, Geist challenged election candidates to sign on to a pledge dedicated to consulting Canadians in drafting new legislation and in supporting balanced copyright reform. As of Tuesday, the entire Green Party, one-third of the NDP and about 15 Liberal candidates had signed on.

Geist reiterated on his blog on Tuesday that the Conservatives' approach to copyright reform is not balanced, a view shared by the more than 92,000 members of his Facebook group.

"Bill C-61 did not strike the appropriate balance and tens of thousands of Canadians told Harper just that over the summer," he wrote.

The Conservatives also touched on a few other technology, telecommunications and science issues in their platform. The party plans to prevent cellphone companies from charging for unsolicited text messages, and it intends to introduce anti-spam legislation.

The platform also pledges to strengthen the newly created Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

"We will amend the Telecommunications Act to strengthen the power of the Commissioner of Complaints for Telecommunications Services, including the creation of a code of conduct for wireless services. We will also create a compliance and deterrent power that allows the … [CRTC] to block [unsolicited text message] and similar unfair charges in the future."

The platform document also said a Conservative government would make further investments to internationally recognized science and technology projects in Canada.


Peter Nowak


Peter Nowak is a Toronto-based technology reporter and author of Humans 3.0: The Upgrading of the Species.