Mr. Chair and distinguished members of this committee, thank you.
My name is Nathalie Théberge. I am the new vice-chair and CEO of the Copyright Board, as of October. I will be speaking today as CEO.
As you said, Gilles McDougall, secretary general, and Sylvain Audet, general counsel, both from the board, are with me today. I would like to thank the committee for giving us the opportunity to speak on the parliamentary review of the Copyright Act.
First, I'd like to provide a reminder: The Copyright Board of Canada is an independent, quasi-judicial tribunal created under the Copyright Act. The board's role is to establish the royalties to be paid for the use of works and other subject matters protected by copyright, when the administration of these rights is entrusted to a collective society. The direct value of royalties set by the board's decisions is estimated to almost $500 million annually.
The board sits at the higher end of the independent spectrum for administrative tribunals. Its mandate is to set fair and equitable tariffs in an unbiased, impartial and unimpeded fashion. This is not an easy task, especially as information required to support the work of the board is not easily acquired. The board is on the onset of a major reform following the introduction of changes to the Copyright Act imbedded in the Budget Implementation Act, Bill C-86.
If I may, I would like to state how committed the board is towards implementing the reform proposals. Of course, the impact of these proposals will take some time to assess as there will be a transition period during which all players involved, including the board and the parties that appear before it, will need to adapt and change their practices, behaviours and, to some extent, their organizational culture.
This transition period is to be expected due to the ambitious scope of the reform proposals, but we believe that the entire Canadian intellectual property ecosystem will benefit from a more efficient pricing system under the guidance of the Copyright Board.
However, reforming the board is not a panacea for all woes affecting the ability for creators to get fairly compensated for their work and for users to have access to these works. As such, the board welcomes the opportunity to put forward a few pistes de réflexion to the committee, hoping its experience in the actual operationalization of many provisions of the Copyright Act may be useful.
Today, we would like to suggest three themes the committee may want to consider. We were very careful as to choose only issues of direct implication for the board's mandate and operations, as defined in the Copyright Act and amended through the Budget Implementation Act 2018, No. 2, currently under review by Parliament.
The first theme relates to transparency. Committee members who are familiar with the board know that our ability to render decisions that are fair and equitable and that reflect the public interest depends on our ability to understand and consider the broader marketplace. For that, you need information, including on whether other agreements covering similar uses of copyrighted material exist in a given market. This is a little bit like real estate, where to properly establish the selling price of a property you need to consider comparables, namely, the value of similar properties in the same neighbourhood, the rate of the market, etc.
Currently, filing of agreements with the board is not mandatory, which often leaves the board having to rely on an incomplete portrait of the market. We believe that the Copyright Act should provide a meaningful incentive for parties to file agreements between collectives and users. Some may argue that the board already has the authority to request from parties that they provide the board with relevant agreements. We think that legislative guidance would avoid the board having to exert pressure via subpoena to gain access to those agreements, which in turn can contribute to delays that we all want to avoid.
More broadly, we encourage the committee to consider in its report how to increase the overall transparency within the copyright ecosystem in Canada. As part of the reform, we will do our part at the board by adding to our own processes steps and practices that incentivize better sharing of information among parties and facilitate the participation of the public.
The second theme relates to access. We encourage the committee to include in its report a recommendation for a complete scrub of the act, since the last time it was done was in 1985. Successive reforms and modifications have resulted in a legislative text that is not only hard to understand but that at times appears to bear some incoherencies. In a world where creators increasingly have to manage their rights themselves, it is important that our legislative tools be written in a manner that facilitates comprehension. As such, we offer as an inspiration the Australian copyright act.
We further encourage the committee to consider modifying the publication requirements in the orphan works regime. Currently, where the owner of copyright cannot be located, the board cannot issue licences in relation to certain works, such as works that are solely available online or deposited in a museum. We believe the act should be amended to permit the board to issue a licence in those cases, with safeguards.
Finally, our third theme relates to efficiency. The board reform as proposed in Bill C-86 would go a long way in making the tariff-setting process in Canada more efficient and predictable and ultimately a better use of public resources. I believe the committee has heard the same message from various experts.
We recommend two other possible means to achieve these objectives.
First, we encourage the committee to consider changing the act to grant the board the power to issue interim decisions on its motion. Currently, the board can only do so on application from a party. This power would provide the board with an additional tool to influence the pace and dynamics of tariff-setting proceedings.
Second, we encourage the committee to explore whether the act should be modified to clarify the binding nature of board tariffs and licences. This proposal follows a relatively recent decision of the Supreme Court of Canada where the court made a statement to the effect that when the board sets royalties within licences in individual cases—the arbitration regime—such licences did not have a mandatory binding effect against users in certain circumstances. Some commentators have also expressed different views on how that statement would be applicable to the tariff context before the board.
We are aware that this is a controversial issue, but would still invite you to study it if only because parties and the board spend time, efforts and resources in seeking a decision from the board.
On that happy note, we congratulate each member of the committee for the work accomplished thus far, and thank you for your attention.