Secret Copyright Negotiations Disregard Canadian Consultation

Because of recent leaks, the public has learned that the minority Conservative government is engaged in at least two sets of secret negotiations to bring forward new copyright and “intellectual property” regulations without the consent of Canadians.

The Conservatives got their first two attempts at copyright change wrong. Later, the government set up a consultation with the Canadian public. The consultation ought to be applauded for opening lines of communication so that everyone in our shared culture had a chance to speak out on what we’d like to see in terms of reform (if at all).

That consultation however, feels increasingly like little more than a publicity ruse to keep concerned citizens occupied while the Conservatives work their way through the secret negotiations with foreign interests.

The copyright consultation Web site1 says:

“It is important that any new legislation that is tabled not only reflect the current technological reality, but is also forward-looking and can withstand the test of time. The government is taking this opportunity to listen to Canadians about what is important to them on copyright. …the government will take stock of the submissions that Canadians have made and the discussions that took place. With these in mind, the government will draft and table new legislation.”

Why does the Conservative minority government pay lip-service to caring about Canadians’ voices on the subject? Why is it proceeding on the international stage without respect to what Canadians want (sometimes even contrary to what many Canadians have expressed)? And why does it have the gall to keep its foreign talks secret and not release the information to the public?

Canada is involved in the ACTA treaty, which has been widely criticized for its potential to bring in regulations on Canadian content, “intellectual property”, and other copyright issues that interfere with the ideas and values Canadians expressed during our public copyright consultation. Consider this Wired News2 (4 December 2009) article

“According to leaked documents, the European Union expressed alarm that the Obama administration is lobbying on behalf of the entertainment industry as part of the negotiations for the new international copyright accord.

The document, “European Union’s Comments to the U.S. Proposal,” notes that the “most important provision” of the U.S.-proposed copyright section includes language noting that the United States’ “overarching objective” is to “facilitate the continued development of industry.””

The US has great interest in controlling “intellectual property”, implementing strategies to secure this domain of economic strength, so it’s not surprising that the sentiment expressed above would exist. But how does that fit with Canada’s participation? The Financial Times3 (26 May 2008) reported

“OTTAWA — The federal government is secretly negotiating an agreement to revamp international copyright laws … Called the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), the new plan would see Canada join other countries, including the United States and members of the European Union, to form an international coalition against copyright infringement. … Federal trade agreements do not require parliamentary approval.”

Interestingly, so long as it’s a trade agreement, the minority Conservative government essentially seems to have free rein. Our government gets to bow to outside interests (industry and foreign governments) discarding Canadian desires. Indeed, no governments have fully released the ACTA documents to the public, it’s only through occasional partial leaks that the public discovers what is happening without broad consent, behind closed doors.

Michael Geist has posted a nice timeline4 (31 March 2009) of ACTA events. But things got worse recently, as noted on Geist’s site5 (16 December 2009). Geist brought up that current Canada/EU talks on a trade agreement, separate from ACTA, have a segment addressing “intellectual property”. He says:

“the EU proposal for the IP chapter has just leaked online[6] and the document is incredibly troubling.  When combined with ACTA, the two agreements would render Canadian copyright law virtually unrecognizable as Canada would be required to undertake a significant rewrite of its law.  The notion of a “made-in-Canada” approach – already under threat from ACTA – would be lost entirely, replaced by a made-in-Washington-and-Brussels law.”

So Conservatives, what are you doing? You set up two rounds of failed copyright reforms, which were embarrasing in their short-sighted, industry-controlled direction, then set up a public consultation that you didn’t seem to take much interest in, and finally are engaged in not one, but two secret trade agreements involving “intellectual property” restrictions that are contrary to the best interests of the Canadian public.

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