a gross manipulation

The Conference Board of Canada's slogan is Insights You Can Count On. Interesting, that. Last week, the Conference Board published three reports recommending the strengthening of intellectual property rights in Canada.

The Conference Board of Canada’s slogan is Insights You Can Count On.

Interesting, that.

Last week, the Conference Board published three reports recommending the strengthening of intellectual property rights in Canada.

The reports—Intellectual Property Rights in the Digital Economy; National Innovation and Performance and Intellectual Property Rights: A Comparative Analysis; and Intellectual Property Rights - Creating Value and Stimulating Investment - were rolled out as Stephen Harper’s team announced new copyright legislation could be tabled in the fall.

The Conference Board of Canada is a not-for-profit research institute that proclaims it does not lobby for specific interests.

All that is in question now.

After reviewing the documents, Ottawa-based law professor Michael Geist, an expert on internet and e-commerce law, accused the conference board of plagiarizing large chunks of its reports from

the International Intellectual Property Alliance, a powerful lobby group representing the US music, film and software industry.

At first, the Conference Board defended its reports.

But Friday, it recalled all three of them.

“An internal review has determined that these reports did not follow the high quality research standards of the Conference Board of Canada,” according to a message on its homepage.

The Conference Board of Canada had pirated its research.

The question is, who paid for the research? The Conference Board won’t say.

But Geist asserts the report was actually paid for by industry groups—the US Chamber of Commerce, Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Canadian Anti-Counterfeiting Network, among others—with a vested interest in stronger copyright laws and, surprisingly, the Ontario government.

“The report itself was funded by copyright lobby groups along with the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation,” Geist wrote on his blog. “The role of the Ontario government obviously raises questions about taxpayer dollars being used to pay for a report that simply recycles the language of a US lobby group paper.”

The release announcing the board’s reports was titled, Canada Seen as the File Swapping Capital of the World. It asserted the estimated number of illicit downloads in Canada was 1.3 billion.

“The report does not come close to supporting these claims,” wrote Geist on his blog.

The information relied on a 2008 Canadian Recording Industry Association news release citing a survey done in 2006.

“In other words,” wrote Geist, “the Conference Board relies on a survey of 1200 people conducted more than three years ago to extrapolate to a claim of 1.3 billion unauthorized downloads (the survey itself actually ran counter to many of CRIA’s claims).”

That is, it was pure conjecture, and almost impossible to verify. But it grabbed headlines and manipulated public opinion, creating the impression there’s a problem in Canada that must be solved.

And the whole affair gets even murkier.

One of the researchers asked to contribute to the report was University of Ottawa law professor Jeremy de Beer.

De Beer was asked to contribute independent research to the intellectual property study.

His findings ran counter to many of the Conference Board of Canada’s conclusions, and his research was not used in any of the reports.

It didn’t say what the Conference Board wanted, so it was rejected.

In an interview with the Ottawa Citizen, De Beer called that strange.

“I would have thought that they would have more carefully weighed the various perspectives that they solicited,” he told the paper on Wednesday. “I’m not interested in picking a fight with them. If they want to commission research from me and then ignore it, that’s their prerogative.”

The whole affair has sullied the reputation of the Conference Board of Canada, and raises questions about why the reports were commissioned and handled as they were.

Geist calls it policy laundering, paying a respected Canadian research institute to parrot unsubstantiated claims made in the US. It gives the claims weight, and builds support for copyright legislation.

And Ottawa is preparing new copyright legislation for tabling in the fall. You might remember the last attempt, which died when the election was called. It was lauded by the music, film and software lobby and would have dramatically restricted the use of digital media in Canada. For example, it would have restricted people’s ability to share music—even among family members living in the same house.

The whole affair reeks of manipulation.

Now, at the very least, the reputation of a respected Canadian research institute has been sorely damaged by the affair.

And when you see the slogan, Insights You Can Count On, you’ll probably be thinking something else entirely. (Richard Mostyn)