Copyright reform pledge gaining steam

By Peter Nowak, CBCNews.ca

With so many issues vying for attention as the Canadian election draws nearer, it's getting harder and harder to get support for one's own particular favourite. It's notable, then, that University of Ottawa internet law professor Michael Geist is managing to drum up significant political backing for balanced copyright reform legislation.

A quick summary of recent history: late last year, the Conservatives were set to introduce their proposed reforms, but backed off at the last minute in December when details of the legislation were leaked. The reforms that were supposed to drop were reportedly overly restrictive to users and skewed heavily toward copyright holders, which led to major consumer outrage. A Facebook protest group started by Geist drew tens of thousands of supporters in a matter of days, not to mention a rally at Industry Minister Jim Prentice's office in Calgary.

In June, Prentice indeed rolled out the legislation, Bill C-61, and said it had been revised to better balance the interests of consumers and copyright holders, a "win-win" proposition.

The public, opposition politicians and Geist didn't buy it, though. They pointed out numerous problems with the proposed reforms, including a loophole that would outlaw the breaking of digital locks placed on any electronic media. That point essentially invalidated the other pro-consumer clauses in the legislation, critics said.

The Conservative bill died on the order paper once the election was called, but it's fair to believe it will again be resurrected if the party returns to power as either a minority or majority government. With that in mind, Geist two weeks ago challenged election candidates to take a pledge posted on his website dedicated to supporting balanced copyright reform. The pledge consists of three tenets:

1. To respect the rights of creators and consumers.

2. Not to support any copyright bill that undermines or weakens the Copyright Act’s users rights.

3. To fully consult with Canadians before introducing any copyright reform bill and to conduct inclusive, national hearings on any tabled bill.

Two weeks on, Geist reports the pledge has the support of the entire Green Party, more than one third of the NDP and about 15 Liberals. The NDP's digital spokesman, Charlie Angus, has also come out strongly against Bill C-61, which he says "will criminalize fans, leave artists on the sidelines and offer a windfall to corporate lawyers.”

Notable exceptions from Geist's list so far are the Liberals' industry critic Scott Brison, who in June said Bill C-61 would create "a police state," and Dan McTeague, the consumer affairs critic.

Not surprisingly, he says, is the complete lack of Conservative support.