Libby expresses her concerns about the Copyright Modernization Act

House of Commons
November 22, 2011

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Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-11.

Like the member for Trinity—Spadina, we both represent ridings, mine in Vancouver and the Honourable Member’s in Toronto, that do have many artists and people who work in the cultural sector. We very much share that in terms of our ridings. We know how much concern there is about the bill and whether or not it does indeed strike the right balance.

Sometimes legislation can go through Parliament and not be noticed very much. Other times we find there is a huge amount of interest in legislation and there are campaigns to try to stop something, like we have seen with Bill C-10, the omnibus bill on drug crimes and other measures.

The bill before us has been very surprising because it is highly technical in nature. It is a complex issue when it comes to talking about copyright. Yet, in my community of east Vancouver, over the last couple of years, there has been significant debate about this issue because people recognize that copyright modernization is long overdue. They have of course been aware that the Conservative government was bringing forward legislation and in fact we have seen a previous version of the bill. It was identical in the last Parliament.

I have actually been surprised in a good way that there is so much debate out in the community about copyright, about the needs of cultural workers, artists, creators, as well as libraries. I am sure like many MPs, I have had visitations from, in my case, the Vancouver Public Library. I think I have met with them two or three times over the last few years about copyright issues.

A hallmark of public libraries is public accessibility. It is one of the few remaining places in our society where, no matter who individuals are, whether they are very wealthy or they are living on welfare and below the poverty line, they have access to a public library. It is a public institution. It is publicly owned and the services are publicly accessible.

Issues of public access and copyright are critically important when it comes to public libraries. The Canadian Library Association, the B.C. Library Association and the Vancouver Public Library have all brought forward very thoughtful comments, proposals and ideas about copyright, and what needs to be done. It has been a very interesting process to see the level of engagement around the bill.

Our copyright critic, the member for Timmins—James Bay, has done an incredible job of staying on top of this issue. As New Democrats we do believe that copyright modernization is long overdue. There is no question about that. I do not think there is any disagreement from any of us about that reality.

Obviously, the issue before us here today, though, is the bill. Does the bill, as it is currently manifested, contain the right balance in terms of public access for students? We just heard from the member for Trinity—Spadina who read one clause of the bill that seems particularly onerous. Is there an adequate balance of those rights and provisions in terms of protecting creators’ artistic copyright as well as ensuring that there is public access?

Our member for Timmins—James Bay has gone through this with a magnifying glass in great detail and has also had numerous public consultations, town hall meetings, and an enormous response from stakeholders. He has come to the conclusion, and we have had discussions about this within our own caucus as well, that the bill unfortunately does not have the right balance and, in fact, there are many glaring problems. In some situations, and this is very unfortunate, the bill itself would even create problems when none existed before.

The principle of modernization is good but, of course, the devil is in the details, as we all know. It is really important that if this particular bill, as it is being debated in the House at second reading, which is in principle, does go committee, and I assume that it will because the government has a majority, there be a very close examination. We want to ensure that copyright laws in Canada can balance the right of creators to be fairly compensated for their work and the right of consumers to have reasonable access to copyrighted content.

I know that the government believes that the bill would do that. Unfortunately, upon close examination, we believe that there are serious problems with the bill, that there are flaws, and that if there is a genuine interest to work on the bill and to improve it, then I think we could end up with a bill that would actually reflect the balance that we all want to see.

I say that with maybe some optimism and hope, but also with the knowledge that this is the government that has rammed through legislation in the last few weeks since we came back and brought in time allocation, I think it is seven times now, and is hell-bent on forcing Bill C-10 through committee and having it come back into the House.

I truly believe that if as legislators we are to do our job, one of the most important processes of the legislative process is what happens in committee and it is not a matter of just playing for time or being frivolous. There is a real process that takes place. I have been part of that on a number of committees over the years and I know other members of this House have as well. When that happens, we actually can end up with something that is a better product that is truly a reflection of what experts are telling us and what the prospective is of the political elements within this House.

I do hope that on this bill, because it does have such a long history and it is now the third time around that it has come forward, there actually will be a commitment from the Conservative government and the minister to allow the committee to actually do its work, and then it would not just simply be rammed through.

There are people in Canadian society who are incredibly expert on this issue. They do need to be heard. Now, I know the government is going to say it did all these consultations and it has done it all. This is before a legislative committee, though. This is part of a real process where people need to be heard.

The NDP is willing to work on this bill. We think there are serious problems, but we are willing to work on it. However, in its current form, it is not something that we think we can support.

In terms of some of the specifics which I would just like to go into, one of the problems that we have is that this bill would formally enshrine in legislation commonplace grey area practices that enable users to record TV programs for later viewing as long as they do not compile a library of recorded content, which is often called time shifting, transfer songs from CDs onto their MP3 players, called format shifting, and make backup copies.

We are also very concerned that it would create new limited exceptions to the fair dealing provision of the Copyright Act, including the exceptions for educators, and exceptions for parody and satire that Canadian artists have been asking for. The exceptions to fair dealing contained in Bill C-11 represent some of the most contentious elements of the proposed legislation.

I know that there is also a very serious concern about the digital locks and that this would override many aspects of the balance that is being sought here. Experts like Michael Geist and the cultural industries have all spoken to this issue. For example, Michael Geist, who is a renowned technology commentator, said:
“The foundational principle of the new bill remains that anytime a digital lock is used–whether on books, movies, music, or electronic devices–the lock trumps virtually all other rights.”
This clearly is a problem and something that needs to be fixed.

The statement of cultural industries, which represents 80 arts and cultural organizations across the country, argues that the bill may be “toxic to Canada’s digital economy” and has a lot of concerns about the bill. The bill needs to be changed and fixed. If there is goodwill from the government to do that, and it acts in good faith, then maybe that is possible to do.