Why were Canadians told that the Government would "improve the protection of cultural and intellectual property rights in Canada, including copyright reform." Well, in part it is because improved copyright protection could be good policy for Canada. However, politics are as influential as policy when it comes to making new copyright laws. Trade and foreign relations are particularly important considerations.
According to Industry Minister Prentice, "we've been criticised internationally for being lax in terms of our copyright law." A closer look at Canada's status in the international community, however, reveals a real opportunity for Canada to show global leadership on the copyright issue. By accepting my 5th and final recommendation and resolving to demonstrate leadership with copyright reforms in the new year, the Government can act on its stated commitment to "strengthening Canada's sovereignty and place in the world."
Minister Prentice has said: "It is important that we have a copyright
regime which is cutting edge." I couldn't agree more. So why then would
Canada want to follow a flawed template designed for the time of fax
machines? The 1990s are over. We're well into the 21st century, and the
models of the last millennium won't work in this new era.
copyright law needs improvement. But
improvement is not necessarily synonymous with the addition of new rights that go beyond the traditional contours of copyright protection. Instead Canada could amalgamate the best practices of other jurisdictions and reform our laws along those lines. That means implementing a more flexible fair dealing regime, streamlining copyright administration and licensing procedures, and avoiding interventionist paracopyright provisions.
The truth is that many countries are looking to Canada for this sort of leadership. While the WIPO Internet Treaties were the last hot issue of the 20th century, the most important international copyright issue is now the WIPO Development Agenda. And here's where Canada can truly make its mark.
The Development Agenda is an effort to reorient international copyright law and policy making away from a one-size-fits-all model toward a more thoughtful and contextual approach. The initiative was spearheaded by Brazil and Argentina, and has been supported by many other countries labeled "friends of development." The international community unanimously endorsed a set of revolutionary recommendations that have been refined over the past few years.
In a forthcoming chapter in the widely-read Canada Among Nations Series of books on foreign policy and international relations, published by McGill-Queens University Press, my colleague Michael Geist and I write about "Developing Canada's Intellectual Property Agenda" We argue that Canada could and should enact middle-ground copyright laws as models that other countries can emulate:
By taking advantage of flexibilities in existing international agreements and promoting progressive attitudes toward new international initiatives, Canada can advance its own interests while simultaneously facilitating social and economic development in other parts of the world. To seize this opportunity, Canada should leverage its technocratic expertise to positively influence global knowledge governance policies and implement domestic reforms as ‘middle-ground’ models for the information society.
Given the close link between copyright and culture, Canada should be particularly interested in crafting policies that suit our domestic interests, not the demands of foreign governments. Moreover, as a net importer of intellectual property, Canada shares the concerns of developing countries about the social and economic impact of stronger, longer copyright protection. We ought not buy into the fallacy that more copyright always equals economic development. Innovation not intervention will lead to economic prosperity.
It is also false that Canada is isolated among trading partners in terms of its intellectual property policies. For example, you'll hear different things from different people about who has and hasn't implemented the WIPO Internet Treaties, so I'd encourage you to look at the lists yourself here and here. Note all of the countries where the Treaties are not in force (i.e. most of Europe). Also note that the emerging economic powerhouses like Brazil, India and China haven't even signed the Treaties. Canada should carefully study the policies of those countries, as they are the future of the global economy.
To sum up, if the Government is serious about asserting Canada's sovereignty, protecting our unique culture and making a place for Canada in the world, it should resolve to show leadership when it comes to copyright reform in the new year. To do so, we shouldn't dwell on 20th century solutions but must instead look forward to the economic realities of the new millennium.