Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today about my concerns with Bill C-11, An Act to amend the Copyright Act.
As the official opposition critic for digital issues, I can see that the proposed measures will have serious repercussions on the digital economy and on the Canadian public. I believe we must study these repercussions very carefully.
First, I would like to speak about the importance of changes in technology. Our society is going through great upheavals, and the constant advances—ever faster and more significant, thanks to new technology—become central to all our spheres of activity. In our professional and personal lives or in our academic careers, we are affected by this observation.
Copyright—authors' rights—is one such facet. I believe we must look closely at the rules that regulate copyright today and harmonize them with current international standards. I believe, therefore, that it is our duty to study the measures we need to adopt in order to satisfy the interests of everyone involved in this issue. Many groups of people are involved, and their demands are not necessarily the same. Sometimes, they are even quite antagonistic.
Creative, university, technological and business communities, along with consumer rights advocates, have legitimate concerns, but they do not necessarily go hand in hand.
This very complex issue deserves careful, in-depth consideration. I would like to reiterate that the NDP supports careful consideration of updated copyright rules. That is also why I would like to make the House aware of the many problems with this bill.
My first concern is about digital locks and consumers. Digital locks force consumers to pay for access to works for a limited time.
Michael Geist, a leading technology pundit, told the committee that:
The foundational principle of the new bill remains that anytime a digital lock is used—whether on books, movies, music, or electronic devices—the lock trumps virtually all other rights.
This means that fair use rights and the new rights set out in Bill C-11 will cease to apply if the copyright holder decides to place a digital lock on content or on a device.
Digital locks do not take into consideration existing rights including the fair dealing rights of students and journalists. I think that the bill's inflexibility when it comes to students is very worrying.
Indeed, I find it draconian that distance education students will be forced to destroy their course notes one month after their course has ended. When a person takes a course, he should be able to keep his notes so that he can use or consult them at a later stage. That is what learning is about: the person keeps what he has learned. It is completely unfair and inequitable, especially since the cost of education continues to rise.
Moreover, vested Charter rights—for example a change of format in the case of a visual disability—may be denied, which would jeopardize the balance between respecting the rights of artists and the right to fair access to content for all Canadians. In my opinion, this constitutes a voluntary exclusion of certain people who should have a universal right to use and discover these works.
It is therefore believe it is essential that we consider these repercussions, which divide the public by restricting access to information for some and not for others.
I am also concerned about the fact that consumers do not have access to content they have already paid for if they exceed the time limit for which they have access to these creations. This will give copyright owners unprecedented powers.
My second concern has to do with legislative measures proposed under the bill. In fact, the bill creates new anti-circumvention rights, which prevent access to copyrighted works. Individuals or organizations that are found guilty of having accessed content without paying for it will be subject to large fines.
My third concern has to do with financial matters. Digital locks enable content owners to charge a fee; however, a distinction needs to be made. These owners are not necessarily the creators or developers of the content, which means that the money collected does not necessarily end up in the hands of the artists or authors.
In its present form, then, this bill deprives artists and content creators of millions of dollars in income, and redistributes it to the copyright owners, which are often big corporations such as record companies and movie studios.
As a result, this bill serves to secure higher incomes, not necessarily for artists and content creators, but for copyright owners. In my riding, a number of artists’ associations are concerned about this vision.
When it comes to creators’ rights, the artists—the ones who are really responsible for these works—will be faced with another problem. This bill contains provisions that would change mechanical rights for musicians, which will result in a loss of $21 million for music creators, who already have very low incomes.
We should help them to continue enriching our lives. This bill would also weaken the moral rights that provide them with some control over their creations and content.
As a result of its consultations with the industry, consumers, creators in Quebec and anglophone creators, the NDP brought forward 17 amendments in committee in order to strike a balance between the rights of creators and the rights of consumers. Unfortunately, this government is too stubborn to listen to anyone other than its Conservative friends, and it rejected all our amendments.
A number of eminent researchers and groups support our position and share our concerns. Over 80 arts and culture organizations across Quebec and nationwide argue that this bill would be “toxic to Canada’s digital economy”.
“These organizations caution that, if the government does not amend the copyright modernization act to provide for adequate compensation for the owners of Canadian content, it will lead to a decline in the production of Canadian content and the distribution of that content in Canada and abroad.”
The NDP is trying to strike a balance between all the interests of the stakeholders involved in and affected by this issue. In its present form, I do not think that this bill meets that need. It is important for creators to have the means to create and that they be compensated for their work. It is also important for consumers to have fair access that does not create inequalities.
This bill risks creating more problems than it solves, both from a legal and a financial perspective. I will be happy to continue to work with the committee members and the many witnesses.
We will work in committee to try to change this bill when we form the government in 2015.