Michael Geist's recent Toronto Star essay on the Canadian Heritage parliamentary committee chaired by Toronto-area MP Sarmite Bulte is a must view. Reading this made me simply incredulous - how can a Canadian government committee produce such bunk suggestions as forcing schools to pay to access freely posted Web content and expect to be taken seriously? What were they trying to do? Please read the report: INTERIM REPORT ON COPYRIGHT REFORM REPORT OF THE STANDING COMMITTEE ON CANADIAN HERITAGE, Sarmite D. Bulte, M.P. Chair, May 2004.
The Committee considered: 1) Private Copying and WIPO Ratification; 2) Photographic Works; 3) Internet Service Providers Liability; 4) Use of Internet Material for Educational Purposes; 5) Technology-Enhanced Learning; 6) Interlibrary Loans.
As Geist indicates, one problematic recommendation is that "the Government of Canada ratify the WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT) and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT) immediately." Given the problems with the WIPO treaties, this would certainly not lend a hand to the consumer.
In section 3) re ISP's, one statement (referring to a possible amendment to the Act to give ISPs exemption from copyright infringement) seems rather Orwellian in its language and implications: "However, in order to qualify for and maintain this exemption, ISPs would be required to take certain actions or procedures to protect copyright. The Act could be amended to codify either a “notice and notice” or a “notice and takedown” procedure." Jeesh - before you know it they will be knocking down the walls aka Brazil. It also means that acts such as criticizing Church of Scientology teachings or posting documents related to flawed voting machines could be squashed much more easily in Canada. Gosh, Welcome to the USofA, y'all...
But the discussion in parts 4) and 5) (E and F in the report) is the scariest of all. Obviously Access Copyright had the Committee's ear on this one, to the exclusion of anyone else. The Committee suggests that they "heard from a number of stakeholders, ranging from existing copyright collectives to provincial government officials representing educators". Oh well, that makes me feel so much better, knowing that a government bureaucrat was representing my and my children's interests! Further evidence of the asinine and one-sided discussion at the Committee table is evidenced by "The fair dealing purposes currently include research, private study, criticism, review and news reporting — but not specifically educational purposes." What the hell is research and private study but education? I wonder if the Committee actually had access to a dictionary? Maybe they only had a access to a free Internet version felt it was improper to use it because they had to use a username/password?
If the resulting recommendation "The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada amend the Copyright Act to allow for extended licensing of Internet material used for educational purposes. Such a licensing regime must recognize that the collective should not apply a fee to publicly available material (as defined in Recommendation 5 of this report)." doesn't scare the shit out of you then we may as well give up. We finally have had the courts recognize the importance of interpreting the fair dealing right widely (in the recent Supreme Court decision), only to have the rug pulled out from under us by a biased and incredibly stupid recommendation such as this.
The document also makes an attempt to define what is publicly available - one which, in my mind, fails miserabley. Nowhere in the document is there mention of the Creative Commons and how it could be used and promoted as a way for creators to tell us how they want their content to be used. As Geist suggests, "A far more balanced approach, and one that would be more in line with Canadian values, would be to permit all uses unless specifically prohibited." Unfortunately, the Committee seems to have abandoned all hopes of achieving a balanced approach.
The final section on copyright seals the control Access Copyright will have over everything we do and also effectively removes the concept of fair dealing for research and study purposes from the Act. Wonderful - now we can send digital ILLs, we just have to pay Access Copyright for every one we send. Great progress this one. So much for our underfunded and resource-bare educational institutions. Welcome to the new world of Access Copyright folks... How does a school in rural Manitoba with a Library budget of $1,000 deal with this one? Stop using the Internet? Stop requesting ILL documents that will help to make them better teachers? I know, let's get Access Copyright to teach our kids! What a great idea! What good law-abiding citizens they will become with Daddy Access Copyright at the helm. I feel so much better now...
One thing that seems terrifyingly obvious to me from this interim report and similar actions elsewhere (such as the US) is that the freedoms we take for granted on the Internet and that have led to so much creative output are in dire jeopardy. It also seems clear that the Music Industry's drive to hold on to their outdated fiscal model is leading to draconian measures that will have our right to learn.