Technology & Science

Copyright forums begin in Vancouver

The federal government has begun consulting Canadians on the issue of copyright reform, starting Monday in Vancouver.

The federal government has begun consulting Canadians on the issue of copyright reform, starting Monday in Vancouver.

The consultation, scheduled to run from Monday until Sept. 13, will give Canadians a chance to have their voices heard through roundtable discussions in locations across the country, a webcast townhall and an online discussion forum.

Industry Minister Tony Clement and Heritage Minister James Moore will officially launch the public consultations at a news conference at the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library on Monday at 12:45 p.m. PT.

Further details of the consultation process are not yet known, although there is also expected to be a roundtable meeting in Calgary on Tuesday.

The Conservatives' previous copyright-reform legislation, Bill C-61, died on the order paper last year when the federal election was called. But the Conservative government has been firm that it would reintroduce the legislation to amend Canada's copyright laws in order to satisfy the country's obligations to the World Intellectual Property Organization, which it signed on to in 1997.

Groups representing copyright holders, such as the Canadian Recording Industry Association and the Entertainment Software Association of Canada, praised Bill C-61, which proposed hefty fines for people caught downloading copyrighted materials and made it illegal for consumers to work around locks — known as digital rights management — placed on media.

Opposition parties, consumers groups and Canada's privacy commissioner criticized the bill as one-sided in favour of copyright holders and against consumers. The government also took heat from a number of groups for not consulting the public before announcing the legislation.

Details slow to come to public

Both Clement and Moore said in June they would consult Canadians this summer before introducing an update to Canada's copyright laws in the fall.

While some industry participants and observers have received invitations to the roundtables, details of the forums in which the public will have a voice — such as townhall meetings and an online forum — have been slow to materialize.

On Thursday night, Moore sent a notice via the social messaging service Twitter saying, "Copyright consultations begin Monday in Vancouver. This is a substantive and sincere effort to move this issue forward." It was the first public notice all week from either ministry about the location of the first day of consultations. The next notification to the public was a media advisory on Friday afternoon about Monday's news conference.

University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist was a vocal critic of the lack of consultation when the previous copyright bill was introduced last summer. He told CBC News the roundabout way the government has chosen to introduce the consultation "raises unnecessary concern and suspicion" about the process.

Geist said if the government follows through on all of the initiatives it has planned as part of the consultation, the public will get a chance to make its voice heard. He also praised the government for opening up the roundtables to a broad range of associations and industry groups.

The issue, he said, is that the consultation hasn't been well communicated.

Communication is important, he said, given the mistrust the public already has about the process.

Last month the Conference Board of Canada, an independent, not-for-profit research group, issued three reports advocating tighter copyright rules. But the board later recalled them after Geist noted they parroted and in some places plagiarized material previously published by the International Intellectual Property Alliance, a movie, music and software industry lobby group in the U.S.

Geist also noted that while the consultation provides an opportunity for Canadians to direct the government away from measures in Bill C-61 they view as too restrictive on consumers, the meetings also provide the opportunity for industry to lobby for harsher penalties.

In May, France passed legislation that would allow internet service providers to cut the internet connections of customers who download or upload copyright-protected music and video files illegally after "three strikes." Bill C-61 did not contain any such measure.

The forums are the first time the government has held a public consultation on copyright reform since 2001.