jjblaisHon. Jean Jacques Blais, P.C., Q.C., June 2011

Now that Stephen Harper has achieved majority with an unexpected May 2nd win, there is no reason why the long awaited amendments to Canada’s Copyright legislation should not be passed into law.  Calls for the reintroduction of the legislation that died with the dissolution of the 40th Parliament have come from many quarters including from John Manley, President of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives.  In his recent letter to the Prime Minister, the former Liberal Deputy Prime Minister urges the new government to “expeditiously” get on with the task.  Readers will recall that the issue of modernization of Canada’s Copyright regime was a top of the list issues for US President Obama when he met with the then minority government leader Harper in February of this year.  The American concern was that Canada was seen as a copyright pirate’s lair responsible for vast sums being lost to the U.S. entertainment industry.  Canada’s advanced communications capacity, its sophisticated technology and the integrated North American English speaking market where cultural creation and its consumers know no borders present a significant challenge to our legislators.  The pressure from the Americans has not abated and the expectations are for fast action.

The Conservative government should not succumb to the temptation of rushing Parliament to a solution to make the pain go away. No matter what solution is advanced, they will not be able to satisfy everyone.  Indeed efforts to change the law, which began under a Liberal administration more than a decade ago, have all been unsuccessful. As the Minister of Industry, Tony Clement, said when he introduced the latest attempt in the last Parliament, the main challenge is finding an equitable balance “between consumers who want access to material and artists and innovators who want to be and should be rewarded for their creativity”.  That balance is difficult to achieve and for Canada the difficulty is made more acute because of the need to protect Canadian artists as well as Canadian consumers while answering American concerns.

The new majority government should take as much time as they need to bring forward progressive legislation in a field that is perhaps the most dynamic and fast changing of any in the generation of intellectual value added. The long legislative process to which amendments to the existing legislation has been put should not be seen as a negative.  On the contrary, a lot of thought has gone into amending the Copyright Act from the very beginning and we should take full advantage of the wisdom that the process has produced.  Surely the evidence before the parliamentary committee in three attempts at passage will have provided many nuggets of wisdom.

Having trailed our major trading partners in the development of modern copyright laws for many years, we are in a position, if we are wise and judicious in our choices, to set the new standard of international copyright law. In doing so we will be serving the national interest through the encouragement of Canadian cultural product while satisfying our international obligations including answering American concerns.

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DR. Stuart Bristowe

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