Madam Speaker, I am very proud tonight to rise in the House as the spokesperson for the New Democratic Party on digital issues, as the spokesperson on issues of culture, and as the representative of the great and massive riding of Timmins--James Bay.
The concurrence motion brought before us tonight is a motion that was adopted by the heritage committee. I have been on the heritage committee for six years. This committee works very well together generally. Bloc members worked with New Democrats and Liberals and the Conservative chair of our committee. We felt that this issue needed to be brought forward to the House to bring awareness to the situation. The motion is very similar to my Bill C-499, which I brought forward in the House two weeks ago. At that time I also brought forward Motion No. 506.
In some ways we are talking about a technical change to the Copyright Act. Some folks might question how much of the minutia of the Copyright Act needs to be discussed. This concurrence motion and my bill would bring forward a discussion about a principle, and that is what I am going to speak to tonight.
Basically, we are discussing the existence of the Canadian private copying levy, which has existed in Canada for a number of years. My Bill C-499 would update the Copyright Act to ensure that this great Canadian success story continues on.
We started to see the changing dynamics of the cultural scene. People had cassettes and were starting to make copies of music for themselves and for their friends. Artists were questioning where the copyright was in this. Copyright refers to the right to make copies. They were questioning who was allowed to make copies.
One hundred years ago it was a very simple thing to make a copy with a printing press. It was the same when records were made. I made a number of albums back in my younger days and to make the lacquer of a record is not an easy thing to do. It was an expensive investment, so controlling copies was very simple. Then technology changed and everyone could make copies. The whole question of where to go with copyright arose.
Canada came up with a compromise at that time. People knew that copying was going on. As a former professional musician, I would say that some of that copying was good because musicians certainly wanted other people to hear their music. Their fans wanted to hear their music. People made cassettes. The question was raised: How were artists going to be remunerated? The private copying levy came into being.
For every cassette that was bought, 5¢, 10¢ or 15¢ was put into a fund and that fund paid the artists for the copies that were being made of their work. When cassettes went the way of the dinosaur and we moved into burnable CDs the levy was extended. A problem came up with the technical gap. People are no longer making burnable CDs. Now everything is on the iPod and it can hold anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 songs.
Supporters of the levy and the artists fully expected the principle of the levy to be continued. This principle was supported by the Liberal government when in power and has been supported by two administrations of the Conservative government. It was felt that this was a fair and reasonable response. However, the Federal Court said the Copyright Act did not specifically identify music players, and we had to have a technical change to the act.
Today's motion for concurrence makes the House aware of the need to update the levy to take into account the technological changes. My Bill C-499 addresses the need to update the levy so that it applies to the iPod so that artists could continue to get paid.
I also brought in at the same time Motion No. 506, which proposes another technical change to the Copyright Act. My motion addresses the ability of students and researchers to access materials in their classroom, and to update the law and make it very clear.
The Copyright Act is so burdensome in some ways because every time there is a new technological change a fight breaks out, and it creates some problems. For example, under the Copyright Act it actually says that it is legal to take an easel and a marker in a classroom and write a quote. That is a very fastidious approach to copyright, so the motion was to say we need, as technological change happens faster and faster, to be able to adapt to the realities and how people are using copyrighted materials so that people have access.
This is the issue we are here to talk about. It is not so much the technological changes, but the principle that if we are to have copyright in the 21st century, it has to maintain the traditional balance of copyright. Copyright has existed since the 1700s. It has been identified in Parliament after Parliament, in the United States, in Canada and in Europe, as a principle that the state accepts that authors have a certain control of their work, but at the same time, there is a public good to this work.
What good is the work if it is kept in a drawer and we cannot access it? The public good has to be allowed to have access to that work. That was the principle on which copyright was founded. We have seen numerous technological changes since the 1700s, but we are in a brand new environment in terms of the speed at which copying is taking place.
The other fundamental change that has happened since the mid-1990s is that, I would argue, almost everyone is in some way involved in copyright because students are copying materials, people are downloading songs, people are making their own projects, things that they technologically would not have been able to do.
We have two solutions to this dilemma. We can either continue to find ways to compensate artists and allow access, or we can try to shut it down, litigate and lock down. My Conservatives friends live in a nuance-free zone. They tend to be tough on crime or fight the tax, so they have been in a bit of a schizophrenic, unsure position on where they stand with copyright.
For example, I was rather surprised when we talked about the levy and the fact that two Conservative administrations had supported the levy, which has been a long-standing principle, to see the Minister of Canadian Heritage denounce it as a job killer, one of those socialist schemes, a tax, and that the Conservatives would fight this tax.
He said that this was a real threat. Then he said that they would fight this tax every single step of the way. If one has to say everything one knows about copyright in 140 characters or less, one could say this levy is a real threat, but I was somewhat flabbergasted that a levy, that a principle that has existed and his government supported for two terms, is such a threat that it had to be fought.
There is an attempt to dumb down discussions in Canadian political life, and my colleagues in the Conservative Party have been masters at dumbing everything down. The Conservatives get down on tough on crime things, they send out their ten percenters and they denounce people. I was wondering, how will this attack on the killer tax play out with Joe Average? Here is the National Post response to the Conservative line on the copyright levy. It said, “The government's nonsensical 'Boo! Hiss! No new taxes!' response...is just dumb”.
That is the National Post, a newspaper that does not tend to give the NDP too much of an easy ride on any given day. This is interesting from the Edmonton Journal. It said:
While this mild tweaking of an existing statute seems like a perfectly reasonable compromise, to hear the [Conservative] government tell it, it's the Boston Tea Party circa 2010. [The] Industry Minister, misrepresenting its contents, denounced the bill as "totally nonsensical".
What the Edmonton Journal was referring to was that the Conservatives misrepresented what is involved with the iPod levy. They immediately started throwing numbers around, saying that this is $75 on everything we buy, every computer we buy, every phone we buy. The bill is very clear. It is not that and they would know from meeting with the private copying levy that the last time the levy came before the Federal Court, there was talk about a levy of $2 to $5 to maybe $10 on very large items. That is a fairly reasonable compromise to most Canadians.
It was interesting that the Edmonton Journal pointed out that the industry minister, rather than responding to a levy that the Conservatives already supported, misrepresented it.
However, the heritage minister is singled out as well. The heritage minister, who we might think would defend creators, also distorted the levy. Railing oddly, talking as if it included the levy on BlackBerrys, iPhones and laptops, which it does not and railing “that consumers deserve lower, not higher taxes.
The Edmonton Journal, in the great city of Edmonton, in the beautiful province of Alberta, said, “This is fair and balanced, worthy of support. It continued:
The Tories are clearly playing pandering politics; let's hope the other opposition parties -- and independently-minded Conservatives -- sign on to a thoughtful compromise that upholds basic Canadian values of straight dealing.
That is the larger picture. I am encouraging my colleagues in the Conservative Party not to always pander down to the most dumbed-down response, “It is a killer tax and we are going to fight it”. I am giving them the chance to remember that this is a levy that they have supported.
Interestingly, the heritage minister came before our committee. The Liberals asked him if a fee was a tax because they were trying to get at what is a levy and what is a tax? The heritage minister asked if they were talking about the iPod tax, and they asked again if a fee was a tax?
The minister said that it depends on its purpose and it depends on how it is used, and it depends on who they were talking to. He said, for example, that if people are paying a fee for an ongoing service, like air security charges, which the government has downloaded, that it might not be, but I think people might disagree. He said that if it is dedicated in an envelope and it is transparent for that envelope, it may not be seen that way, as a tax.
That is what the levy is. The levy is transparent, dedicated money. It does not come to the government. The government never touches this money. It goes to artists. Our minister of heritage is maybe feeling a little uncomfortable about having gone out so far on a tax.
We have to talk about where we are going and we have to have an adult conversation about copyright because there are really only two solutions. There is a way that we compensate artists or we start to litigate, and we start to go after the consumers and the users. That approach will not work. We only have to look at the United States where it is suing single mothers, high school students, and an 83-year-old lady in an old folks home for supposedly downloading songs. That is not a coherent cultural policy and it is not a defensible policy.
We see the attack on consumers that the Conservatives railed in the last Bill C-61. They deliberately blurred the distinction between counterfeit and personal use. If people broke the digital lock on their iPhone because they did not like the package they had and wanted to go somewhere else, well they were technically criminals. Or, if they had bought a CD and could not back it up to their iPod and they wanted to break that digital lock, the Conservatives treated them, the average consumers back home, the same as they would treat an international counterfeiting ring.
That is bizarre. That is an attack not just on consumers but it is an attack on artists because artists want to work with their fans. Knowing the Canadian music scene as well as I do, there is a special relationship between artists and fans in Canada because we are small markets and we have to support our artists.
We need to have this discussion about how we are going to compensate because I believe and our party, the New Democratic Party, believes that the Internet has created the opportunity for probably one of the most, if not the most, exciting democratic grassroots cultural exchange that has ever been imagined.
People are able to engage each other. People are sharing ideas. People are actively engaged. There are two threats to what exists on the Internet right now. The first threat is the corporate threat, the lobbyists who do not like citizens deciding what they want to watch and how they want to watch it and what kind of content. That is the approach that we see now with the secret ACTA negotiations that this Conservative government is engaged in.
Now under the ACTA negotiations, the government would make the ISP, the cable provider back home, liable for what consumers download, and the ISP could be sued. What do members think that would do for innovation in this country?
It would shut it down immediately because the cable guy would be too afraid to let people mess around if he was not sure. They would not even need the threat of copyright action. They could shut someone down. This is the three-strikes-and-you-are-out provision.
The Conservatives have not told the consumers back home and all the little people they claim to support that the negotiations that are going on internationally would create provisions that would make it possible for three violations of copyright. Maybe our son or nephew has sent a song for us to listen to. That could be a violation of copyright. Three times and we would be denied access to the Internet, period, without going to court, without going to trial. I think this would be very invasive.
We see this approach and, again, we see the approach of the Recording Industry Association of America that is launching millions of dollars of lawsuits against individuals. That is not a reasonable response.
This is the corporate threat to the Internet, the attempt to lock down, to deny access, to make digital lock sacrosanct. That is a serious threat to the development of the cultural commons that is being created.
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.
We can talk to many artists. They do not want to sue their fans. They do not want a war with their fans. They are just saying, “Find a way that we can share our music and we can be compensated”.
This past winter the great U.K. rocker Billy Bragg came here to Parliament Hill. Billy Bragg was speaking for the musicians of England and many musicians all over the world and he said, “When music is played, artists should get paid”. It is a fundamental principle.
Billy Bragg was saying he did not support the corporate attack on fans. He did not support the locking down of his music. He wanted people to be able to share his music and to hear it, but that he wanted to be able to continue doing what he has done so well and that it has to have a remuneration factor to it.
The alternatives we are looking at tonight are these. One model is whether we continue to go down the road with the Conservative government that has no plan, no vision for a true digital economy, who are engaged in secret ACTA negotiations that would penalize and criminalize average citizens, that would lock down content and make it impossible for researchers, for students, music fans to be able to access works without having to worry whether they need to see a lawyer. The other progressive model is to say we know there is sharing going on, we know there is all kinds of trading, and some of this is good because it is creating new business ideas out there and we want to support the new business models that are coming. However, we want to ensure artists are compensated. That is a fair and reasonable solution.
It is not an enormous amount of money when we divide up how many songs are being put on iPods. It is a fairly reasonable amount.
We have an opportunity in the House to say that, as various members, we can agree to some fundamental principles. One of those principles is that artists have a right to be remunerated for their works.
I will say in closing I was speaking with Cory Doctorow, who is another great digital activist. He was talking about the levy. He said that what Parliament needs to do is to find a way to end the cold war between the music industry, the corporate lobbyists, the musicians and the fans, because we all benefit from great music and we all benefit from building the relationship between our artists and the consumers.