Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour to rise in this great House once again to represent the people of Timmins—James Bay. It is a great privilege to come on stage right after the hon. member for Davenport. It seems I have been doing that ever since we were 16, having to go on stage with him at Larry's Hideaway and The Edge and all the other places that we played across Canada, and learning very early on that the money artists rely on, the money that comes back in payment, is so little.
Artists live on pennies. It is the accumulation of pennies. That is the fundamental principle of copyright. If we take those pennies away, the ability of artists to maintain careers evaporates.
When the government strikes $20 million that goes directly to artists out of the bill and thinks it is no big deal because the Conservatives' buddies in the big broadcast centres want a better break, the government is not providing any industrial advantage, but it is making it impossible for some artists to continue. Year after year, many artists have to sit down. My colleague and I worked with many great Canadian artists who, after a while, simply could not make it. They count on those pennies coming in to offset the incredible investment they must make as artists; when those revenue streams are not there in sufficient number, or if they are ripped off and are unable to see a balance, then Canadian content is affected.
The debate on copyright has been excellent for Canada and for Parliament. I was here in 2004, when the understanding of copyright was to pass the bill really fast and get it done. There have probably been some advantages, because we now have a House where we can discuss the implications of technological protection measures, and it is important to discuss these kinds of things.
When we pass elements in this House, for example, on technological protection measures, they will have implications. In some areas those implications will be positive. In other areas there will be implications that will be extremely negative. That is the fundamental balance of copyright. To simply say it is one or the other, that it is a black or white world, does not work in the realm of copyright. It never has.
If we go back to the copyright debates that happened in France, England, the United States in the 1700s and the 1800s, the issue was that necessity to find balance between the public good and the private right.
The private right is defined by two basic players. One is the author and the other is the publisher. They are not necessarily the same creator. Who has the right to make a copy? That is the fundamental principle of copyright. Who has the ability to access that artistic work, and how long should the control over it last in order to maintain a public good?
The work is not a piece of property. This fact has been defined in Parliament and has been defined in law. An artistic work is an idea that is put into the public realm. It exists for a period of time during which someone is able to receive exclusive compensation for that work and has that exclusive right, but after a certain time that idea belongs to the larger community, which will base future artistic works on it. That is the balancing act.
In reforming copyright, it is essential for Canada to upgrade its copyright regimentation in 2011. We have a national obligation, because one of our greatest exports--maybe our greatest export, above our oil, gas and gold--is our international artistic reputation. We have produced great artists internationally, so we have a national priority in maintaining that reputation.
There is an industrial component, of course, because we do not simply want to see goods being knocked off, ripped off and traded off. If we put an intellectual investment into a product, we have a right to a response.
There is also the creative community. We have been speaking about it a great deal in the New Democratic caucus, because we believe the fundamental principle of copyright is that our artists should get paid. When we look at artistic copyright legislation that takes away rights that previously existed, we have a problem with it.
It does not mean that the New Democratic Party will say it is against copyright. No. New Democrats support copyright, and we want to make sure that the artist has a right to get paid. However, the other essential element of copyright is the public good, and this is where we will sometimes butt heads with the industrial component.
We have created an incredible digital commons. In terms of the ability of people around the world to communicate and exchange ideas and create on a base of older works, there has been nothing like it in the history of civilization. It has certainly created havoc with older business models.
The other day I was in a record store. I was talking to the owner of the record store about all these young kids who are coming in and asking about Sun Ra and Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Gene Vincent, artists we would never have heard of when we were younger. We did not know these artists even existed, but because of YouTube and the Internet, there is so much more potential. That digital commons must be protected.
Within that digital commons there are obviously some major issues in terms of people trading off works. We have Pirate Bays, where entire works are available and people are not paid for them, but the issue is to not simply lock down content overall. We do not simply let industry decide what rights artists have; we bring it to Parliament. Within Parliament, we decide what rights a citizen should be able to have.
For example, a citizen should be able to have the right to extract, under a digital lock, work for study or for commentary. Anybody in the documentary film industry will tell us they need to be able to extract excerpts from films because they are making commentary on it. That right is defined by Parliament. We have all agreed to that right.
However, a digital lock would simply override that right. The right given in Parliament might not be the right given by the industry. That is not insurmountable, but it is certainly problematic.
We need to define, as most of our European counterparts have done on the digital lock provisions, that it is the right of an industrial organization to put a digital lock in place to protect their product from being ripped off.
This is what we would say. The gaming industry has made enormous investments, and digital locks are essential for that business model. However, if a student breaks a digital lock because he or she cannot see or is partly blind and has to break the digital lock to access the work on a Kindle, that student is not the same as someone who breaks a digital lock to rip off video games.
That was defined in the WIPO convention. It was very clearly articulated that in our international obligations we have to protect the intellectual property but that we can also define legal exemptions within Parliament or within a federal government.
That is the issue on the digital locks; the issue is not to say that digital locks are good or digital locks are bad, but that we need to define the exemptions, just as we have to find out why certain areas of important revenue streams that artists have relied on are being erased. We do not support erasing artists' rights that they have exerted.
In terms of education, there is so much potential in the digital realm. We have an ability to transform a nation as spread out as ours in doing education or library loans. We had never even been able to contemplate these capabilities before.
The problem is that within this bill there are provisions that have to be fixed. Again, it is not that this bill is going to be black or white, but things have to be fixed. For example, a student in Fort Albany who is taking long distance courses and getting course notes over the Internet would be told that after 30 days, that piece of paper would have to be burned up or disappear. However, a student going to Collège Boréal or Northern College in Timmins would be given the paper notes and would get to keep those notes. There cannot be two sets of rights, one in the analog paper world and a lesser set in the digital realm.
We need to clarify that. We have asked many times whether the government would work with us to amend the act, because we are committed to reforming Canada's copyright legislation. At least since I have been here, the position of the New Democratic Party has been that we want copyright to move forward; however, we must amend this bill, because if we do not amend it, there will be many perhaps unintended consequences, and we have seen where those consequences will be.
We are telling the government that if it expects support to get this legislation through, it should show willingness to sit down and go through the problems. There are problems with this bill. There will be problems with any copyright bill.
It is about restoring that sense of balance. We have not seen that yet. That is the fundamental principle of copyright. We will remain committed to the principle of a balanced legislative framework.