Levy debate sparks impassioned pleas in Parliament for copyright reform

April 15th, 2010 by Barry Sookman Leave a reply »

Yesterday, the House of Commons voted in favour of a concurrence motion to support expanding the private copying levy to include “digital audio recording devices”. The Bloc Québecois, NPD and Liberal parties voted for the motion. The Conservatives voted against it.

As the vote was only a concurrence motion, it has no binding effect on Parliament. It only exhibits support for extending the levy to iPods and other digital audio recorders.

Much of the actual debate on the motion took place on Tuesday. With significant copyright reform looming in Canada, it is interesting to hear what the MPs had to say about copyright in general and the need for reform. The following are some extracts from the Parliamentary debate that sheds light on what the political parties are thinking about copyright.

MP Charlie Angus of the NDP party, who had originally proposed the iPod amendment, gave an impassioned speech supporting the principle that artists need to be paid for their creative work. He also mounted a spirited attack against the threats posed by advocates of “free culture” who he referred to as “digital libertarians”. He said:

“However I would say there is another threat, and I think this is a threat that civil society needs to look at. We talk about digital citizens and the rights of the digital citizen, but if citizens do not take the responsibility as a citizen, that is as much a threat to the development of a cultural commons.

If citizens believe, if individuals believe, that the great works that are created, the music, the books, the films that are being created by our wonderful creators, can be just taken anytime we want without anybody ever getting paid, that is a destruction of our cultural heritage.

I have met many of these digital libertarians and many of them I like and I get along with very well, but I would argue that there is nothing countercultural about taking the work that artists create. I have had people say to me that artists are living in a dead business model; they should develop a new business model.

There is nothing new in the business model of having to sell T-shirts to pay for the gas to get to one’s next show. Artists have been doing that for years. There is nothing new in the business model of having to hawk buttons, bumper stickers and whatever else. Artists do this anyway, because artists barely make a living at the best of times. However artists put a lot of effort into that music and they put an investment of their future into it.”

Conservative MP Cheryl Gallant, stressed the need to update our copyright laws to help Canada succeed in the global digital economy and to foster creativity, innovation, and economic growth. She said:

“As we all know, technological change is occurring at an unprecedented speed and intensity. We cannot afford to simply be reactive as we are presented with both the opportunities and the challenges posed by increasingly rapid technological change. The question becomes: How do we secure our place as a world leader in an ever increasingly competitive marketplace?

Canada needs to be at the forefront of these new markets, ready and equipped to benefit from the opportunities it creates. That is why our Conservative government is working to ensure that our legislative and regulatory approach is conducive to supporting these businesses. We want to ensure that Canadian businesses are equipped to deal with the challenges posed and take advantage of the opportunities offered by the digital revolution with strong intellectual property laws that encourage new ideas and protect the rights of Canadians.

Our government recognizes that updated copyright legislation will strengthen Canada’s ability to compete in the global digital economy and contribute to our cultural and civic life. As such, we are committed to modifying the laws governing intellectual property and copyright with the ultimate goal of creating an environment that encourages the creation of new ideas and contributes to economic prosperity overall.

I will take a moment here to remind the House that industries touched by copyright account for 4.5% of our gross domestic product and employ 5.5% of our workforce. These are industries that are creating wealth and value where none existed before. This is why our government is committed to helping ensure our copyright laws are designed in a way that the ingenuity of Canada’s best and brightest can continue to flourish. We will foster creativity, innovation and economic growth by giving Canadian creators and consumers the tools they need to keep Canada competitive internationally.”

After referring to last summer’s copyright consultations, she told the House what we can expect in the new Bill:

“Thanks to the consultations, we are now equipped with a wide variety of points of view as we turn our attention to preparing copyright legislation. This is essential because we know that technology will continue to develop. It will not be enough to simply amend the act to respond to each new challenge presented to us by technology.

Let us proceed together to update and strengthen our copyright law in a way that will strengthen Canadians’ ability to compete in the global digital economy. Moreover, let us work to enhance their ability to continue to make their significant contribution to our cultural and civic life.”

MP. Pablo Rodriguez of the Liberals also gave an impassioned speech highlighting the importance of copyright to Canadian culture and the need to ensure that we have legal frameworks to support our cultural industries. He said:

“We are in the midst of a transition to a digital economy, which affects culture in a big way. It is a topic we are faced with every day, not only in the House of Commons, but also in the business world, in broadcasting, and in film studios, to name a few.

Our party has always been recognized as a reliable partner for Quebec and Canadian artists. This is the case because we recognize the value and wealth of the contributions made by our artists and cultural industries…I can assure the House that we will continue to protect what our artists do to enhance our culture with courage, innovation and creativity… Clearly, our creators should be compensated for the valuable work they do…

…our artists should be compensated for their work. They amply deserve to be compensated. It is logical, fair and essential to maintaining a strong, vital cultural milieu. The cultural industry generates $40 billion in revenue and creates more than 600,000 jobs in Canada. Culture makes a significant contribution not only to our economy but to our everyday lives. Can we even imagine a day without culture?

We must support our artists by ensuring that our legislative framework reflects this new reality.”

Ruby Dhalla, also of the Liberals, made a similar plea to recognize the importance of culture and to protect it while at the same time promoting creativity and innovation. She stated:

“In this digital economy era, a sector that has to work even harder is the cultural sector to keep up with the change. We must ensure that the change that it is encountering is looked at as opportunities versus constraints…

In accordance with our historical reputation of being a strong partner in the cultural industry, I know that many of my caucus colleagues in the Liberal Party wish to ensure that our cultural heritage policy and our cultural heritage in Canada is protected, while at the same time promoting creativity and innovation and also ensuring that the rights of all artists are protected in our country…

We must ensure that we have a strong and dynamic cultural industry. This is why we believe that artists must be supported and also remunerated for their work. They are talented, hard-working and dedicated and we must ensure they have the opportunity, the resources and the tools they need to succeed…

We must ensure that our artists receive their fair share not only for what they produce but also because they deserve it and because such a measure would help to ensure that the cultural industry keeps the creativity and the innovation and also gets rewarded for it. However, most important, it would help to ensure that artists and the cultural industry are viable and sustainable for many years to come. We must realize that the cultural sector alone represents over $40 billion and over 600,000 jobs in Canada. We must ensure that we protect and promote our cultural industries in Canada.”

Mr. Roger Pomerleau of the Bloc, also criticized the “free culture” mentality that so dominates much of the debate about copyright in this country and argued that frameworks are needed to spur investment and creativity. He pointed out that our creative community are in a desperate situation and need help.

“Our singers, our musicians, our authors, our songwriters and composers and all those who support them are in a state of emergency. Day after day, they are watching their copyright revenue melt away like snow in the sun. Paradoxically, consumption of their work is growing fast, and because of this gap, many of them have an annual income that puts them at the poverty level. This is unfair to them. Not every artist is a Luc Plamondon, a Céline Dion or a member of Cirque du Soleil who has made it big. Many artists are just starting out and still have far to go before they reach their goals.”

Then, after referring to the meteoric rise of Google he said:

“Would the creators of Google have agreed to invest so much talent, time, energy and money if there had been no chance of being paid one day for their investment and creativity? I doubt it and, in my opinion, my colleagues do not think so either.

Our music creators are currently in a situation where their creative efforts might not be compensated because everyone can use their property without paying for it. We have to help them. It is urgent.”

Clearly all members of the House are concerned about the plight of Canada’s creative community. They recognize that proper legal frameworks are necessary to support creativity and innovation. They denounced and recognized the threats to our culture by the “digital libertarian”/”free culture” advocates. They also all agreed that we need copyright reforms urgently in this country.

All of this bodes well we move closer to seeing what Bill will be placed before Parliament and think about what Parliament will do when the Bill is tabled.

For more information about the Copyright Modernization Act or Bill C-11 or copyright reform, see Change and the Copyright Modernization Act.

 

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