Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate in the debate on Bill C-32, the copyright modernization act.
It is interesting that we are debating copyright in the House of Commons again. This corner of the House has been clear and consistent over many years about the importance of updating Canada's copyright legislation and regime.
New Democrats have always said, and our spokesperson on this issue, the member for Timmins—James Bay, said it again this morning, that we believe copyright reform is in the centre of what we need to do around digital innovation. It is the centrepiece of a digital innovation strategy. It is not the only piece, but it is the key component of how we approach that. The debate today and the expansion of the Internet and the technological changes we have seen bring that home daily for Canadians.
Our digital innovation strategy would not just be about copyright reform. It would be about codifying the protection for net neutrality to ensure the democracy on the Internet is protected and preserved. The attempts to offer tiered services so some people get their Internet services faster than others and some content goes faster than others need to be addressed. New Democrats have put forward proposals to ensure net neutrality.
We also believe that there needs to be a commitment to national benchmarks for broadband access. Canada needs to put the whole question of broadband access on the front burner to ensure that all Canadians have the broadband access they need to survive and flourish in the current environment.
We are falling behind other countries that are doing more in this area. Australia is a great example of that. It was a key proposal in Australia over a number of years, and it factored again in its most recent election, about it establishment of a national broadband network, which it calls fibre to home, an open access network. With the latest fibre optic technology, it goes to 93% of homes and businesses in Australia. It is a very fast service, at 100 megabits per second.
This is a huge infrastructure project for Australia, but it has served Australia well. It is a huge investment. It is the largest infrastructure investment in the history of Australia, a megaproject that will put the Australians in good stead for the future. We should consider this kind of thing in Canada as well.
Another component of a digital innovation strategy, which the New Democrats believe is very important, is to enhance the role of digital cultural programs to ensure Canadians can fully participate as international citizens within a democratic culturally vibrant public commons. That public commons has changed with the introduction of the Internet. I think all of us realize our lives are very different because of that development.
There are very key things that we need to look at as part of not only this specific discussion about copyright reform, but the broader context of copyright reform in Canada and digital innovation as well.
Bill C-32 is the third attempt to update Canada's copyright laws in the last six years. We have not made any changes to our copyright law since 1997. The previous Liberal government, the Martin government, tried to bring in changes to the copyright regime at the end of its term with Bill C-60.
When the current government came to power, it introduced Bill C-61 nearly two years ago, but withdrew the bill because of very broad criticism. It was too cumbersome and too closely modelled on the restrictive digital millennium copyright act in the United States. There have been significant problems with the U.S. legislation, which I am sure we do not want to repeat in Canada.
Bill C-32 is intended to strike a balance between corporate and consumer interests when it comes to copyright interest.
Regarding some of the highlights of the bill, we are told that the intention of Bill C-32 is to be technologically neutral, that it should apply across a broad range of devices and technologies with a view to ensuring adaptability to a constantly evolving technology environment. We know this is crucial to any new legislation on copyright. It cannot be legislation that becomes outdated almost as quickly as it is passed. It has to be something that serves us into the future. We have to get the broad principles of the legislation right or it will be outdated by the time it even passes through Parliament.
The government has also stated that its aim in updating the Copyright Act is not to punish individual users, but rather to focus its deterrence and enforcement efforts on distributors and large websites that illegally host copyrighted content. We will have to see whether that goal is actually accomplished. There is some criticism that the bill does not have that kind of focus and does not accomplish that goal, but the government has said it hopes it does.
What is included in the bill?
The bill would extend the term of copyright for performers and producers to 50 years from the time of publication of a musical performance.
It would create a new "making available" right in accordance with the WIPO treaties. This measure would give copyright owners exclusive control over how their content would be made available on the Internet.
It would introduce a mandatory review of the Copyright Act to take place very five years. Given the pace of technological change and given that we want to ensure the legislation actually does what it is intended to do, this mandatory review is very crucial.
The bill would formally enshrine in legislation commonplace grey area practices that would enable users to record TV programs for later viewing, or time-shifting, as long as they did not compile a library of recorded content. It would allow for the transfer of songs from CDs onto MP3 players, for instance, or format-shifting, and it would allow folks to make backup copies.
The legislation would also create new limited exceptions to the fair dealing provision of the Copyright Act, including exceptions for educators and for parody and satire. Canadian artists have been demanding this.
It would also create an exception for content creators that would enable the circumvention of DRMs through the express purpose of reverse engineering, for encryption research, for security testing, for perceptual disability and for software interoperability.
The bill would also introduce a new so-called YouTube exemption to deal with mashups that would allow Canadian users to compile clips of copyrighted works into a remixed work, as long as it was not created for commercial purposes.
Bill C-32 would also create a new exception for broadcasters to allow them to copy music for their operations.
The bill would create a carve out for network locks on cellphones.
The bill would also reduce statutory damages from a maximum fine of $20,000 per copyrighted work to a one-time maximum penalty of $5,000 in situations in which copyrighted works had been illegally accessed for non-commercial purposes.
A number of changes are included in the legislation, but that does not mean there are not problems with what is there. New Democrats have identified two key problems with how the Conservative government has approached copyright.
The rights that are offered in the fair dealing, or mashup and parity exemptions, can be overridden by the heavy legal protections being put in place for digital locks. Under Bill C-32, it would be illegal to break a digital lock, even if that lock prevented one from accessing material that one would otherwise be legally entitled to access. In fact, it treats the breaking of digital locks for personal use the same as if the lock were being broken for commercial counterfeiting. The whole question of the use of digital locks and their application, the extent to which they can be applied and how that conflicts with the rights of consumers, which the bill apparently tries to protect, and how those two interact is a huge problem with this legislation.
Consumers are guaranteed certain rights in the bill, but the reality is the holder, the manufacturer or the digital lock producer has the final say so, and those digital locks do seem to override the rights of consumers when it comes to the legislation.
That is a huge problem with Bill C-32. The Conservatives might say that under the World Intellectual Property Organization agreement this is something that is necessary. While those things need to be considered given that commitment, other countries have taken different approaches. So there are alternative ways to deal with this, rather than this reliance on digital locks. That is something that must be discussed further at the committee and could be a deal breaker in terms of the legislation.
Another serious problem with the bill is that a number of previous revenue streams for artists' organizations appear to be undermined through exemptions and changes. The most noticeable one is the government's decision not to extend the private copying levy on CDs to music playing devices. This is a very serious problem. The whole question of how we respond, how we monetize, how we make sure that artists are remunerated for the work they do, given the changing technology, and how we make sure that there is money going into creators' pockets, given these new technologies, is something that we have struggled with for over a century.
Earlier today the NDP's Canadian heritage critic, our spokesperson on this issue, went through the whole history of how that worked from the last century, starting with John Philip Sousa denouncing the threat of mechanical music, the roller piano. He said the technology would destroy the livelihood of American musicians. Music publishers, people who publish sheet music, were similarly concerned about the introduction of the record player. They thought that would mean the end of artists being effectively or appropriately remunerated for their work.
The radio was new technology and it was thought that it too would end the ability of creators to be properly remunerated for their work. But we found ways through all of those issues, and that brings us up to today. So the scenario has not changed, and the need for creativity continues as well.
Here in Canada, when we were faced with the situation of artists losing remuneration because of people copying their works onto blank cassettes and blank CDs to make mixed tapes, and so on, they were not being compensated. Artists were not being compensated, and that was a serious issue in terms of their incomes. We found a made-in-Canada solution, which was to introduce a levy on blank cassettes and CDs, a levy that is paid to a copyright collective and then paid to creators, to artists. It has been hugely successful in Canada and has been very important to creators in terms of maintaining their income and ensuring that they were properly compensated for their work.
That continues to be an important approach that has broad support. I know New Democrats have consistently said this is something that we should be considering today as well, extending that levy to music playing devices such as iPods and MP3 players so that artists could be compensated appropriately for the works that are transferred onto those devices.
There is support for this among creators as well. Alain Pineau, the national director of the Canadian Conference of the Arts, has said that the bill's failure to extend copyright collectives into the digital area is a huge problem and that it bypasses that solution in favour of lawsuits.
If we had the choice of engaging a system that we worked out and developed here in Canada, which has been hugely successful, which has met the goals of ensuring that artists and creators are properly remunerated for their work, if we had the choice between that and forcing creators and publishers into court against consumers, the choice for me is absolutely clear that the levy is the way to go.
Unfortunately, the Conservatives have politicized the conversation about the levy. They have talked about it as if it were a tax. It is not a tax. It is a levy that is directed for a specific purpose, and I think it is a purpose that Canadians can support.
I think Canadians want to make sure that artists are appropriately compensated for their work and that they make an appropriate living from the important work they do from which we all benefit. I think that is something that Canadians would get behind.
It is a system that is in place; it is not a novel idea. It is a system that was criticized when it was first brought in, but I think that criticism died down when the fairness of the system became widely apparent.
That is another very serious problem with this legislation. We want to make sure that there is a system of copyright based on the principles of fair compensation for creators and artists and access to consumers. Those are very appropriate and needed principles. Remuneration of artists and creators for their work is crucial to the ongoing cultural viability of Canada and to the Canadian cultural sector.
Access is crucial for people in Canada who enjoy the work of creators and artists. I do not think that criminalizing consumers, putting the emphasis on finding ways to go after people who violate copyright, is the way to go. It takes its inspiration from the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which we know has been a huge failure in a number of cases.
We have seen in the United States where children, parents and others have been sued, usually by large recording companies, for the violation of copyright, in a way that I think any reasonable person would see as unfair and inappropriate. This aspect of the American legislation is something that I hope we would not be copying in Canada. We should put a digital lock on that idea because it is just not appropriate for use here, especially when we have a solution that we created in this country and has served us well.
New Democrats also support the idea of collective licensing. We support fair access for educational materials, and in this bill there is a very troubling provision that digital lessons for long-distance learning would have to be destroyed within 30 days of the end of the course. This would treat students in digital learning environments as second-class citizens and undermine the potential of new learning opportunities.
My colleague has likened this provision to book burning. Requiring the destruction of those course materials within a time period at the end of the course really goes against the kind of freedom of intellectual inquiry that we want to stimulate in Canada. It amounts to a digital equivalent of book burning, hardly something that we want to be encouraging in an educational setting.
As well, the requirement that teachers would have to destroy lesson plans, as contained in clause 27 of this legislation, is extremely troubling. We want to encourage people to use distance education as a way of upgrading skills and getting the education and training they require, but we also want to make sure they have access to the materials they need to gain that education. Sometimes those materials are required for ongoing purposes. Clause 27 of this bill is a very serious issue in that it requires the destruction of course materials and lesson plans. Certainly it will be something that we will raise as best we can in the coming discussions.
There is much that we have to talk about on this issue of copyright legislation. We tried and we are here again debating it in the House of Commons after a number of ill-fated attempts. I am not sure that we have found the right legislation yet, but the New Democrats are here to participate in that debate and work to see if we can improve the legislation. Hopefully that is possible, but if not, we may have to make other decisions on it.
We want to work with everyone on whom this legislation would have an impact, to see if we can find an appropriate copyright regime for Canada for the 21st century and for a time of changing technology.