In Canada, Bills replace the colourful acronyms of bills being considered into law. Some might say that this naming convention is boring and typically Canadian. However, some bills can have a history of their own and just like the American acronyms can come to mean a lot to many people. One of the most famous bill in Canadian history has to be Bill – 101 in the Province of Quebec about the French laws and society. So far, Bill C-11 has had little effects on me, although normally it should. I’m a veteran of the Canadian copyrights debates and have written about both that at length before I lent some of my time fighting SOPA, better known as the Stop Online Piracy Act on behalf of Americans.
Bill C-11 is the fourth attempt by the current Conservative government to adopt a copyrights law at the behest of international treaty obligations they claim they cannot escape from. The logic here is mesmerizing. If states are sovereign, how come they cannot choose and pick which international treaties they wish to sign or not. I mean, for the Conservatives signing treaties only holds value sporadically. There’s this thing called Kyoto that Canada recently has just washed its hands off and said it would ignore. That’s how much a signature is worth these days.
The Canadian legal system is different than the American one in that at the core, laws are about good governance. Rights of some groups always have to be balanced out against the public good. Bills that fail the public good test usually don’t become laws. However, just like the American system, the judicial arm of the government is capable of striking down any law that does not benefit the public good. Just ask Bill 101. Although it is essential for the survival of French in Canada, it has been surgically maimed for decades to the point that one could argue the loss to the public good is greater than the few irregularities the judicial rulings were supposed to adjust. But that’s another debate.
Copyrights in Canada are based, just like in the American system, on the premise that copyrights are not eternal and that any copyrighted work has to revert to the public domain after a period of time. Ultimately, the public will own Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny, in Canada. Copyrights in Canada differ from those in the United States in one important aspect. In Canada, moral copyrights are recognized. Moral copyrights mean the original creator of a piece of work – the actual person, will always have a moral copyright over any material he creates, whether the actual commercial copyrights has been sold to another party. Moral copyrights are great for original creators. They cannot be removed. They give the holder of the moral copyrights some fiduciary recognition and oversight on the work she created. Only a real person can own a moral copyright.
Canadian copyrights laws also differ from American ones based on some protection given to creators decades ago. Currently, there is a levy on every empty media bought in Canada. That levy assumes that Canadians will copy music on media like blank DVD discs, CD-ROMs, USB keys and portable hard drive. Therefore entertainment industry lobbies have a levy, or what I prefer calling a tax that’s already in place so that every time a Canadian allegedly copies music or a film, the copyrights holders have already been compensated. Whether Canadians actually copy illegally downloaded music on such media is another question. With the proliferation of data in the information age, it might be sensible to assume that Canadians are really backing up all kinds of personal files, like pictures, projects, school assignments, rather than just music.
Notwithstanding this existing Canadian levy on media, it seems that the entertainment industry wants to double dip Canadians by having the government impose SOPA-like provisions in the supposedly needed reformed copyrights bill. Let me put it bluntly. The entertainment industry already gets paid every time a Canadian, including Canadian businesses buy blank media. Yet, it wants to corner Canadians at the other end have more extreme regulations passed on its behalf. The most insulting part is that they want the government to be responsible for proving that there has been a copyrights infringement. That means tax payers would have to shoulder the burden of the proof that the entertainment industry should be bearing.
I fail to see the benefit to the public good by having Canadians pick up the bill so a private industry can ask the government to police Canadians. The Americans were able to scream loud and clear about SOPA, however, I don’t see how Canadians will be able to fight C-11. Stephen Harper does not care about Canadians. He’s got a majority in Parliament. He can do almost anything. The most likely outcome of Bill C-11 is that parts of it will be stricken down one after the other by Canadian courts until the semblance of public good is again readjusted. But that means years of fighting and courts proceedings.
It also means loss of competitiveness for the budding Canadian technology sector. Technology in Canada has always had a rough time. Every time giants like Research in Motion or Northern Telecom spring up, they crumble decades later because of a chronic lack of investments in infrastructures in Canada and the lack of a comprehensive industry that emerges out of the leadership of a few giants. Yet, the second C-11 victims after the public will be the technology industry. With provisions making tampering with digital locks a crime, much of the industry and its dynamism will be affected. All of Canada’s competitors have no qualms about studying and learning from technology by breaking digital locks. Yet, the federal Canadian government is willing to muzzle a fragile and important industry to please foreign Hollywood moguls.
Personally, I’m tired of these copyrights fights. I wish this article could have any impact, but I don’t know if it will. With the entertainment industry it seems one always have to stay on your guards before they start lobbying politicians for some sweet deal. In my world, the technology industry, I don’t get any favour from the government. I’m expected to innovate and compete against the entire planet without any protection for my industry. I mean, the Canadian government cannot legislate the iPhone and Android devices out of Canada to benefit Blackberry phones... As a Canadian, I just wish the government would pay attention to the real growth industries and stop protecting a bunch of Hollywood and Nashville spoiled kids.