Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise this evening to speak to Bill C-11.
There is no question that Canada's Copyright Act is in dire need of an overhaul to reflect and to serve the needs and realities of artists, creators, rights holders and consumers in the 21st century. However, on too many counts Bill C-11 fails to meet the task at hand and for every problem that it attempts to fix, new problems are created.
We in the NDP and Canadians across the country have serious concerns about the bill in its present state, and we look forward to working constructively with the government to amend elements of the bill to address concerns that Canadian stakeholders have.
As we know, the bill was introduced in the last Parliament exactly in the state it appears before us today. This is not the first time the government has done this in the 41st Parliament. Indeed, since the election in May, it has introduced several bills that have been virtually word for word the same as the bills it put forward in previous Parliaments.
It is a bit early in the mandate of a government to show inertia, but from the recycling of bills, the omnibus crime bill, the ending of the long gun registry and the recycling of Bill C-11, this is a government that has begun to run out of ideas already. By limiting debate and railroading committees, the Conservatives have shown that they do not have any ideas themselves, and they sure are not interested in the ideas of Canadians who want to speak to the bill.
Notwithstanding the fact that the legislative committee looking at Bill C-32, as it was called in the 40th Parliament, met with over 100 witnesses who all spoke about the many serious problems that existed in the legislation, the legislation has not changed. What is more, we hear that the government is not interested in any more input from Canadians on the substance of the bill, and that is too bad. The government is missing an important and historic opportunity to craft a made in Canada copyright act that would stimulate innovation in digital industries and that would truly protect artists, other content creators and rights holders and at the same time balance the needs of consumers.
While the government does not seem interested any longer in what Canadians have to say about copyright, it certainly cares about the big boys in Hollywood and New York who want Canada to toe the line, and a deeply flawed line it is, that creative industries and consumers toe south of the border. The government's anti-circumvention position as it pertains to technological prevention measures, TPMs or digital locks, is a case in point.
I understand that if someone makes available thousands upon thousands of songs, movies, or pieces of software and is profiting from that activity, that person is clearly infringing on copyright for commercial purposes. Pirated DVDs sold on street markets or making semi-conductors specifically to allow gamers to hack their gaming platform to play pirated software are other examples. Someone is making money off of the blood, sweat, tears and creativity of artists and entrepreneurs, but the creators are not getting paid, and that goes beyond the regular practices of consumers to share and enjoy content.
However, much of the scare-mongering from major record labels and film studios unfortunately has tried to conflate the practices I have just described as the common practices of music and movie fans. This has led to the bizarre circumstances that we all know of, such as grandmothers being sued for downloading some tunes on the Internet.
The Conservatives could have crafted a Canadian-made solution to this very complex set of circumstances. Instead they caved to their U.S. buddies again. On the one hand, Bill C-11 finally recognizes common consumer practices which should be for the benefit of consumers and creators, such as time shifting, recording TV for later viewing, format shifting, as well as parody, satire and education as fair-dealing exceptions. On the other hand, all of this is moot if there is a digital lock on the content since that measure in the anti-circumvention measure that is attached to it supersedes all else.
What Canadian consumers win with one hand, they lose with the other. If there is a digital lock on a CD, they will not be able to make a back-up copy. If there is a digital lock on an e-book, they cannot change its format for use on a different type of e-reader. If there is a digital lock on a DVD, journalists will not be able to use part of it under the fair-dealing rights. It does not make sense that digital locks could supersede other rights that are guaranteed in the very same piece of legislation.
What is worse, not only do digital locks prevent Canadians from fully enjoying materials that they have legally purchased, they are also backed by incredibly unreasonable punitive damages with fines of up to $1 million and five years in jail for doing something that, if it were not for the presence of the digital lock, would be entirely acceptable. It is beyond logic.
While we in the NDP have an issue with the practice of suing fans and suing consumers, I would like to point out that it is only the very large multinational media outlets that could avail themselves of this kind of protection anyway. For example, members of the Canadian Independent Music Association as a block represent 24% of all music sales in Canada, which is larger than EMI and Warner music sales combined and greater than Sony music sales. This organization is made up of Canadian-owned companies, mostly small- and medium-size businesses which include record producers, labels, publishers, recording studios, managers, agents, and so on. In other words, they are the heart, soul and bones of the English language Canadian music business.
Few, if any, of the member organizations could pursue those who under C-11 infringe copyright through the courts. It would be cost prohibitive for them. While executives at the big multinationals slap themselves on the back at how compliant the government has been with C-11, the bill really does not help the independent music industry. It does not help the small businesses. It does not help the small entrepreneurs.
There is no question the music industry has gone through a very difficult time over the last 15 years. Therefore, it is all the more pressing that we craft copyright legislation that addresses the profound need to invest in new business models and innovation in the Canadian cultural industries. Instead, C-11 takes tens of millions of dollars out of the hands of artists annually by waiving the so-called broadcast mechanical tariff and by playing politics with the blank copying levy.
Prior to my election to this place in May 2011, I derived my primary income in the arts and culture sector as a musician, a songwriter, a producer, a composer, and a journalist. I can tell the House that it is a very difficult way to make a living and raise a family. Most in that profession work terribly long hours for many years and most barely earn a dollar. Having been lucky enough to make my living in the arts, I can say it is potentially a good way to get rich, but a lousy way to make a living.
With the arrival of the digital era many believed this would herald a new day for artists, a dawning of a middle class where it was not always a feast or a famine, where new revenue streams and business models would raise the average income for Canadian artists from below the poverty line to something resembling a decent living. That is what we should be striving for always. I think it is fair to say that that dream has largely gone unfulfilled. Writers still make more money slinging burgers than they do from their work. The average annual income of Canadian artists is under $13,000.
It is important to remember that the spokespeople for the multinational music and movie businesses are not speaking for artists. They are speaking for their shareholders. Prior to the digital revolution, prior to Napster, BitTorrent sites and Netflix, artists were still struggling. Not a lot has changed for artists.
Let us be clear. Artists have always done most of the work and received the smallest share of the return. It was the same before the digital revolution and it is the same now. That is too bad, and Bill C-11 only makes the situation worse.
We know that Canadians support the arts and are willing to pay for it, but this bill wipes out $20 million in annual revenue that goes directly to artists and rights holders by eliminating the broadcast mechanical tariff. Surely in the hundreds of witness testimonies on Bill C-32 the government heard that this would be detrimental to artists and rights holders. Again, the government is very in touch with the business interests of private broadcasters and big Hollywood film studios, but it is out of touch with Canadian artists and their audience, the Canadian public, who supports them.
Bill C-11 could have set an innovative and exciting course for Canada's cultural industries and workers, the artists who create the content, as well as Canadian consumers.
In its current state, Bill C-11 would fall far short of moving Canada forward into the 21st century. However, we look forward to working with the government on constructive amendments to fix the bill.