This past week, my attention was captured by a story in the Globe and Mail’s technology section, with the title “Canada placed on copyright blacklist.”
As some of you may remember from some of my previous columns in this space, I have quite strong views about the current state of copyright law in Canada, the US and the world.
To summarize my stance briefly (and therefore speak more bluntly than considerately) I would argue that the current state of copyright law is a hypocritical mess internationally, a sold-out fraud in the US, and a tolerable failure in Canada.
That we were being blacklisted by the US for our handling of our copyright law actually struck me as something of a moral accomplishment—kind of like being kicked out of the Mafia for being too damn nice to people.
As quickly became apparent from the story, however—and confirmed even further when I read the actual report of United States Trade Representative—the use of the word “blacklisted” in the headline was a little hyperbolic.
(You can find a copy of this report at www.ustr.gov.)
We have become one of twelve countries with which the USA is having its most serious intellectual property protection issues; so we are on their “priority watch list” for the year to come, along with perennial watch list members like China, Russia and India, and some surprising co-members like Israel.
That semi-criminal or chaotic states like China, Russia and India should have intellectual property battles with the US is hardly a surprise—they are veritable hotbeds of product forging, DVD- and CD-copying, and various internet-related file swapping.
Israel makes the list not because of allegations of information technology related misdemeanors, but because of certain patent laws that displease the US’s mighty pharmaceutical industry.
Canada makes it as a new member to the list because we have repeatedly failed to follow through on throne-speech commitments to update our copyright laws; and because we are, in the US’s judgment, a too readily opened backdoor into the US market for copyright-violating goods shipped in from other countries.
My own response to both these criticisms is to say, “Well, the more power to us for not being like the Americans.”
It may be a little diplomatically embarrassing that we have not acted upon agreements we made in 1996 with the World Intellectual Property Organization.
But we are better off being embarrassed than being tangled up in the kind obsolete and corrupt intellectual property regulations the US has foisted on its own citizens and now seeks to impose on the world—including us.
That we have not fallen victim to US pressure to replicate their notoriously awful Digital Millennium Copyright Act is not a tribute to the political courage of our parliamentarians, just a happy by-product of their fecklessness.
The Liberal government of 2005, and the Conservative government of 2008, both tabled bills proposing to amend the existing Canadian copyright act.
Both bills were badly though-out, shameless acts of toadying to American political pressure.
Mercifully, they were both so bad because they were such after-thoughts on the part of minority governments, each of which had other, more pressing priorities.
Also mercifully, both proposed acts died on the order paper when those minority governments dissolved.
Had we been stuck with either of those bills passed into law, the result would have been an intellectual environment as blinkered, corrupt, and lawyer-ridden as the one that is currently choking inventive activity in the US.
Canada’s copyright act, of course, is hardly a source of national pride.
It is woolly, old, and clearly out of sync with the era of world-wide, digital communications.
On the other hand, it was not drafted, like the US’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act, with the express purpose of preserving the interests of big corporations involved in music, film, software and pharmaceutical production.
Our copyright act needs updating, certainly; but not according to a time schedule and work plan dictated by the US.
We are better off with our current moderately bad law than with a thoroughly execrable one based on the US model.
As for the second objection to Canada’s intellectual property right protection behaviour, I am not very sympathetic to the US Trade Representative’s position on that one, either.
This is what the US Trade Rep would have us do:
“The United States hopes that Canada will implement legislative changes to provide a stronger border enforcement system by giving its customs officers the authority to seize products suspected of being pirated or counterfeit without the need for a court order.”
This is a request to turn Canada into the quasi-police-state the US became under the Bush regime, when constitutional rights were thrown in the trash bin in the name of national security or business interest.
Requesting that Canada be more vigilant in inspecting goods and people coming across its border on their way to the US is reasonable; telling us that we should dispense with our existing rule of law for the benefit of the US economy is not.
In short, I am one Canadian who is very happy to be in the US Trade Representative’s bad books at the moment.
I would suggest we stay there until we come up with a better copyright act, and they come up with a better Trade Rep.
Rick Steele is a technology
junkie who lives in Whitehorse.