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We’ve Been Invited to Testify on Copyright: Let’s Bring Your Voices Straight to the Government!

The committee reviewing Canada’s copyright laws has invited us to testify in Ottawa. What should we bring to the table? We want to hear from you!

As you may already know, Canada’s Copyright Act is currently under review. The Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology (INDU), which is conducting the study, is accepting briefs, and hosting in-person testimonies from the key stakeholders.

OpenMedia has been invited to testify in Ottawa on October 29, 2018 and we want to bring your voices to the table.

It is essential for the committee to hear from a wide cross-section of people in Canada who will be the most affected by these reforms — even though they may not always get the opportunity to speak to decision-makers directly.

(If you already know what you want us to say, please email us now! If you need more background, read ahead…)

Here’s a quick refresher of what’s at stake in the review of Canada’s Copyright Act. This information is mostly drawn from our slick Let’s Talk Copyright tool (which you can use to easily submit a personalized brief to the INDU committee — try it!).

Here’s what’s at stake:

Website Blocking

An unpopular website blocking proposal from a coalition led by Bell Canada, called “FairPlay Canada”, was recently rejected by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) – but the threat remains alive and well.

This dangerous proposal would result in sweeping online censorship, leading to the takedown of legitimate content and speech as well as violating Net Neutrality protections. And it’s headed straight for this review, as the CRTC ruled it did not have jurisdiction to rule on the proposal, and instead suggested the Copyright Act review as an appropriate avenue.

Just this week Bell and Rogers testified before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage asking for FairPlay to be considered, and expanding their request to include criminalizing online streaming. We must keep our guard up to ensure website blocking proposals like this do not sneak their way into the revised Copyright Act.

iPod tax

The music industry group which administers the tax on blank CDs has been long advocating to expand payments to all smartphones and similar devices sold in Canada to compensate for music copying. If that doesn’t work, it just wants a multi-million handout from the government.

More taxes, really? What about the decrease in private music copying with the rise of subscription based services like Spotify and Netflix? Is this measure even necessary in the 21st century? ‘Nough said.

A Copyright Tax on Broadband Use Over 15GB Per Month Per Household

In other dangerous ideas, the Screen Composers Guild of Canada (SCGC) is proposing a “Copyright Tax” to be charged on all Internet that exceeds 15GB a month.

Their motivation is a misguided claim that any Internet usage over 15GB/month must be due to streaming content. AND, that streaming content (even if you pay for it legally, like Spotify or Netflix), means you should be paying a tax to further compensate composers.

Don’t we already pay too much for our Internet services in Canada? The notion that usage over 15GB automatically implies streaming content is absurd — what about online video calls connecting people with their loved ones, distance education and all the online activity essential to the thousands of Canadians who work online remotely, just to mention a few? Double-charging customers for services is a band-aid solution to the larger issue that we need better funding mechanisms for content and culture in Canada.

As of 2016, the average Canadian household used nearly 130GB a month. Even Bell estimates that “low usage” households that “occasionally browse the Internet” typically use 20GB a month. A tax on Internet usage over 15GB is simply ludicrous. As our community members Patrick and Erik rightfully point out:

Copyright Term Extensions

Unfortunately, the government of Canada has already agreed to copyright term extensions in the new NAFTA (now known as USMCA) going from the previous life of author plus 50 years
to life of author plus 70 years. This move will take a heavy toll on the public domain and won’t come cheap for taxpayers and the education sector. Plus, it has been demonstrated that copyright extensions are unlikely to yield significant benefits to rights holders and their heirs (learn more here).

As much as we may not be able to effect much change here, we must strengthen our demands in other areas of our copyright laws, such as strengthening users’ rights. Some examples of this include demanding that the government adopts a more open-ended concept of fair use (more like the one in the U.S.) and the exemption of government works from copyright.

Intermediary Liability

On the bright side of the new NAFTA, the deal spells out that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and online platforms are not liable for third party content posted by their users. This is good news for free speech online in Canada, which was lacking safe harbour rules prior to the agreement. As Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law, points out, “safe harbour provisions have been characterized as the single most important legal protection for free speech on the Internet.”

Notice and notice system

This is another aspect of our copyright regime that, like term extensions, was traded away in NAFTA. Although Canada was able to keep its notice and notice legal system for identifying and dealing with hosted content that is allegedly infringing copyright online, there is a catch.

The USMCA outlines that if we are to change Canada’s copyright notice regime at any point in the future, our only option is to adopt the U.S.’ notice and takedown system, which is extremely overreaching and often results in legitimate content being censored. (Learn more about the “notice and notice trio” here).

Again, probably not much that we can do about this last point but to fight to safeguard other areas of copyright laws that are still salvageable and strengthen provisions that are beneficial to the public at large.

Now that you have some background on what’s at stake, please take a minute of two to tell us: What are your main concerns or recommendations you’d like us to flag with the INDU committee as part of the Copyright Act review?

This is our best chance to bring your voices to the committee while we’re on the ground in Ottawa, so don’t miss out in this unique opportunity! We are looking forward to hearing from you and delivering your voices to MPs on October 29th!

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