Government retreats on copyright reform

A controversial bill that seeks to reform Canadian copyright laws will not be introduced this week, federal officials confirmed on Thursday.

Minister of Industry Jim Prentice delays plan to introduce controversial bill

A controversial bill that seeks to reform Canadian copyright laws will not be introduced this week, federal officials confirmed on Thursday.

A spokesperson for Minister of Industry Jim Prentice said he would not be introducing the bill either Thursday or Friday. The House of Commons goes into recess for the holidays at the end of this week, meaning the bill could not be introduced until late January at the earliest.

"As the minister stated in the House, he will table a bill when he and Minister of Heritage [Josée Verner] are satisfied that they have a bill that has struck the right balance between the rights of creators and the rights of consumers," saidspokeswoman Deidra McCracken.

"Until that time the bill will not be tabled."

Prentice was expected to introducethe copyright reform bill earlier this week. The billwould have made such activities as the time-shifting of television shows, file-sharing of music and video, and copying files to CDs or MP3 players illegal.

At an open house in his Calgary constituency on Saturday, Prentice argued that such legislation was necessary to bring Canada in line with its obligations to the World Intellectual Property Organization, which it signed on to in 1997.

Vocal protests

But Prentice backtracked on the plan after more than 50 angry protestors showed up to question him at the meeting, and an online group formed tooppose iton social networking site Facebook. The group was started by University of Ottawa professor Michael Geist, a chief opponent of the legislation, on Dec. 1. More than 20,000 Facebook users have joined the group since then.

A protest is also scheduled to be held at Queen's Park in Toronto on Dec. 18.

Critics said the proposed legislation will mirror the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act and take a hard line against the copying of digital materials. Geist accused Prentice of caving in to lobbying from U.S. entertainment companies, who are seeking to curtail digital copying in all its forms.

Writing in his blog on Thursday, Geist said the delay was an opportunity for Prentice to revisit the legislation.

"This is Prentice's moment. He has an opportunity to brush aside the momentary embarrassment of the delays and instead work toward a genuine copyright balance by reaching out to all Canadians," he wrote.

"As astonishing number of people have voiced their concern over the past two weeks and the government seems to have listened. Now it must act by openly consulting and engaging with a country that genuinely cares about copyright."

Artists divided on copyright

Not everyone was pleased with the decision to delay the legislation. The union for Canada's English-language performers issued a statement on Wednesday urging Prentice to "do the right thing" and ignore the protests of a "vocal minority."

"This government is turning its back on legislation that is long overdue. Politics must not trump policy," said Stephen Waddell, national executive director of the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists, or ACTRA, in a statement. "By not releasing the promised legislation, the government is causing further delays, and in the process shelving years of hard work."

A large number of Canadian musicians, however, do not support ACTRA's position and are concerned that industry bodies are not speaking in their interests. A number of high-profile acts, including the Barenaked Ladies, Sarah McLachlan and Avril Lavigne launched the Canadian Music Creators Coalition in May to speak on their behalf.

"It's short-sighted to say 'See you in court' one day and 'See you at Massey Hall' the next," said Barenaked Ladies frontman and coalition spokesman Steven Page. "If the Canadian government wants to reform copyright, it should be creating a made-in-Canada solution that looks to where the music industry is going, not where it was."