Canadian Government Triggers Major Copyright Review


The Copyright Act of Canada was first passed in 1921 and in the decades that followed has undergone considerable amendment.

Between 2005 and 2010, several bills failed to gain traction due to opposition but in 2011 the Copyright Modernization Act was tabled. A year later, in the summer of 2012, it was passed into law.

The Act tackles a number of important issues, such as allowing time and format shifting, plus backup copies, as long as DRM isn’t circumvented along the way. So-called ‘fair dealing’ also enjoys expansion while statutory damages for non-commercial scale infringement are capped at CAD$5000 per proceeding. Along with these changes sits the “notice-and-notice” regime, in which ISPs forward infringement notices to subscribers on behalf of copyright holders.

The Act also mandates a review of copyright law every five years, a period that expired at the end of June 2017. Yesterday a House of Commons motion triggered the required parliamentary review, which will be carried out by the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology. It didn’t take long for the music industry to make its position known.

Music Canada, whose key members are Sony Music, Universal Music and Warner Music, enthusiastically welcomed the joint announcement from the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development and the Minister of Canadian Heritage.

“I applaud Minister Bains and Minister Joly for initiating this review of the Copyright Act,” said Graham Henderson, President and CEO of Music Canada.

“Music creators, and all creators who depend on copyright, deserve a Copyright Act that protects their rights when their works are commercialized by others. This is our chance to address the Value Gap threatening the livelihood of Canadian creators and the future of Canadian culture.”

That the so-called “Value Gap” has been immediately thrown on the table comes as no surprise. The term, which loosely refers to the way user-generated platforms like YouTube are able to avoid liability for infringing content while generating revenue from it, is a hot topic around the world at the moment.

In the US and Europe, for example, greater emphasis is being placed on YouTube’s position than on piracy itself, with record labels claiming that the platform gains an unfair advantage in licensing negotiations, something which leads to a “gap” between what is paid for music, and what it’s actually worth.

But the recording labels are unlikely to get an easy ride. As pointed out in a summary by Canadian law professor Michael Geist, the notice-and-takedown rules that facilitate the “Value Gap” are not even part of Canadian law and even without them, the labels have done just fine.

“The industry has enjoyed remarkable success since 2012, growing far faster [than] the world average and passing Australia as the world’s 6th largest music market,” Geist writes.

“The growth has come largely through Internet streaming revenues, which now generate tens of millions of dollars every year for creators, publishers, and the broader industry. The industry is also likely to continue to lobby for copyright term extension, as foreshadowed by a lobbying blitz just last month in Ottawa.”

As reported in September, telecoms companies and the entertainment industries are pressing for website blockades, without intervention from the courts. The upcoming copyright review will provide additional opportunity to push that message home.

“Bell admits that copyright reform is not needed for site blocking, but the link to the Copyright Act ensures that the issue will be a prominent part of its lobbying campaign,” Geist notes.

“The reality is that Canada is already home to some of the toughest anti-piracy laws in the world with many legislative tools readily available for rights holders and some of the largest damages provisions found anywhere in the world.”

But for copyright holders, a review also has the potential to swing things the other way.

The previously mentioned notice-and-notice regime, for example, was put in place as an alternative to more restrictive schemes elsewhere. However, it was quickly abused by copyright trolls seeking cash settlements from alleged pirates. It’s certainly possible for that particular loophole to be closed or at least addressed as part of a comprehensive review.

In any event, the review is likely to prove spirited, with interested parties on all sides trying to carve out a smooth path for their interests under the next five years of copyright law.

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