moved that Bill C-294, An Act to amend the Copyright Act (interoperability), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker, it is a great honour to rise in the House today and speak to my first-ever Private Member's Bill, Bill C-294, an act to amend the Copyright Act as it relates to interoperability.
It has also been unofficially called the “unlocking innovation act”. The pathway for putting together this bill began in the winter of 2019-20 as the federal government was finalizing the new NAFTA deal, which is now officially known as CUSMA. For my part, it started with working on the industry committee. We were studying the legislation which would implement the new trade deal. Some of my own constituents from back home in Cypress Hills—Grasslands appeared as witnesses to give their feedback on it. They were representing Honey Bee Manufacturing, and I will say more about them in a moment.
During the meeting, while expressing their support for having a free trade agreement in place, they pointed out a threat to their industry. This is what they laid out in their opening statement:
The challenge we face is interoperability. Recently, with technical protection measures and so on, companies have started to use digital locks and keys to prevent us from allowing our equipment to interoperate with these major OEM brands. It's a form of protectionism that allows them to own and operate the entire value chain at the exclusion of independent manufacturers.
In Canada we have 1,400 manufacturers of implements that are attached to agriculture, mining, forestry or construction equipment. Of those manufacturers, 500 are for agricultural equipment. That agricultural equipment is primarily manufactured adjacent to small communities in Canada, rural communities, where the majority of that type of manufacturing takes place. It's a challenge for us to achieve the ability to continue to legally manufacture our product and sell it onto these platforms. The copyright act in the United States has provision for circumventing for the purpose of interoperation. The Canadian Copyright Act does not have this same term in the agreement.
We would like to see that ratified prior to the signing of the trade agreement so that we're not on that uneven footing that prevents us from competing legally in the marketplace here and abroad.
That is the main problem in a nutshell, and it is the type of challenging situation that this bill would correct. The requested change did not end up happening around the timing of CUSMA, or in the time since then, but it has brought us to today as we debate this bill. Bill C-294 seeks to move ahead with a change to the Copyright Act that would help to put interoperability back in its rightful place in the Canadian marketplace.
This is the right thing to do on a number of fronts, because interoperability means support for innovation, consumer choice and protection, competitive markets, small business and job creation. Before explaining in a little more detail what it is, I am going to tell a story about why interoperability is important.
Two farmers from southwest Saskatchewan, Glen and Greg Honey, out of a desire to have a product that worked better and more efficiently on their farm, took the initiative to engineer and build a 425-horsepower tractor. They then went on to make a self-propelled swather, as well as the grain belt header that has become the standard in the marketplace for how headers are built.
As farm implements and attachments, it was easy to use them with something else, such as a tractor or a combine, which they would have already had. At that time, interoperability was generally open and achievable because of the simplified nature of the equipment. All one needed was a common hydraulic hose connection and a PTO shaft, and they would be ready to go. It did not stop there.
As local farmers around the area began to see the equipment the Honeys were using on their farm, they began to want the same kind of swather and header as well. Over the course of a decade, they eventually moved their new manufacturing outfit from their farm to the town of Frontier.
There they were able to set up in the shop in the space vacated by Flexi-Coil when they bought out Friggstad Manufacturing, another family-owned and operated farm equipment manufacturer in Frontier. Friggstad had a similar operation that had built a superior product of its own. However, it was a victim of rapid inflation and market instability in the 1980s which unfortunately put it in receivership. It was eventually bought out by the bigger competition. The sale of Friggstad Manufacturing to Flexi-Coil was devastating to the community because they moved the operation up to Saskatoon, cutting the population of the town almost in half, from over 500 people down to around 300.
However, the move into town in 1987 by the Honey brothers became a new opportunity for the community, and soon Honey Bee Manufacturing became the largest source of employment for the region. They created a future for the community once again. It really shows how crucial and how much of a difference these short-line manufacturers can make in rural communities when they are in business and are allowed to succeed. The success story of Honey Bee is not unique just to Frontier. There are hundreds of companies across the Prairies and this country that share a similar success story of innovation that was born out a need to create either a better product or a new one altogether.
Whether it is a company such as Schulte in Englefeld, Bourgault in St. Brieux or Väderstad north of Langbank, these are companies in Saskatchewan who are driving innovation in their industry. While doing it, they are making an absolutely essential contribution to the livelihoods and the social fabric of our small communities and rural area.
Sadly, Honey Bee Manufacturing's level of early success 40 years ago would likely not be possible right now. This innovative industry has long been losing ground to large companies that are pushing them out of the market. It might sound hard to believe, but our copyright law seems to be helping large companies and providing them the tools to do just that, which is actually the opposite of what the Copyright Act was originally intended to do. I will offer some support for this common sense principle from a book on Canadian copyright law by David Vaver, who published it while serving as an Oxford professor of intellectual property law and a director for the Oxford Intellectual Property Research Centre.
patents and copyrights are supposed to encourage work to be disclosed to the public and to increase society's pool of ideas and knowledge.
Keeping a broad public domain itself encourages experimentation, innovation, and competition—and ultimately the expectation of lower prices, better service, and broader public choice.
Those are the known benefits of an open and competitive market against a monopoly. Interoperability has been a key part in that for the agriculture sector as long as anyone can remember and that is what it is still doing in other areas of our lives. At a basic level, interoperability is something that is actually quite broad.
It happens whenever different devices, machines or pieces of equipment can connect and work together. There are many examples of this, including how people use simple tools or digital technology that we simply take for granted in our daily lives. It is something that we do not usually notice, and there is a good reason for that. That is because most of the time we do not actually have a problem with interoperability and there is usually not a barrier to prevent it from happening.
However, today, I am talking about where a barrier does exist and how a simple update to the Copyright Act would get us back on track for supporting innovation and consumer choice. A new barrier comes from technological protection measures, or TPMs for short. They are a legitimate tool designed to protect intellectual property, including things like movies, music or software, and they have been enforced by Canadian copyright law for over 10 years.
The bill introducing legal recognition for TPMs into the Copyright Act had this to say in its preamble:
Whereas the Government of Canada is committed to enhancing the protection of copyright works or other subject-matter, including through the recognition of technological protection measures, in a manner that promotes culture and innovation, competition and investment in the Canadian economy;
That is exactly how they should be used in line with the principles of copyright. At that time, copyright law in different parts of the world was catching up to significant changes in technology and industry. We have reached the point again where there is a critical need to do the same thing in our own time. Technology has advanced into new areas. Everything is increasingly digital. This enables new features in our homes, our vehicles and our machinery.
However, in some ways, this has also created a catch when it comes to the Copyright Act. The digital aspect of machinery means that it is operating with software to communicate as needed with a user interface or with other devices or attachments. Copyright applies to the software contained inside these products, and this has given the original manufacturers a new mechanism to control access to the entire product after it has been purchased.
This is what is happening with digital locks. If a user of the equipment wants to attach a piece of equipment to a tractor, but it was not made by the same major brand, if we keep down the path we are on, it will be locked out and will not be used. Good luck keeping customers for innovative SMEs.
The digital lock also prevents a short-line manufacturer from reverse engineering to make their products compatible in the first place, since the OEMs own the software in the machine, as per the terms and conditions that must be accepted every single time the machine is started after purchase.
Clearly, there is movement toward a monopoly, and it is partly being done in the name of copyright. While the current version of the act explicitly mentions interoperability of two computer programs as a non-violation of TPMs, the language in place does not capture what is happening right now. As it is, there is enough ambiguity to allow for some OEMs to take advantage of it and hold it over their customers and their competitors.
There is more reason to be uneasy than having a vague fear in the face of an unknown. Back in 2017, the Nintendo v. King decision came out from the Federal Court. It is one of the first decisions to apply to Canada's TPM provisions and, since then, has been cited in several other cases.
For the larger issue of interoperability, the main point is not really about how Nintendo games were used in the particulars of this case. The case set a precedent in which a piece of physical hardware was considered copyrighted material. That is how the current law has been interpreted, and it means there is one more way to stop reverse engineering for legitimate reasons.
It is easy to see this becoming a bad trend across various industries if it were left unchecked, but right now the battle line seems to be in agriculture. There is still some time to clarify the law in line with its spirit and intent, but there are already some signs of damage.
A 2021 report released by what was then called Western Economic Diversification outlines industry data for the agriculture manufacturing sector in Canada and organizes it for us to get an idea of the economic impact. It starts out by presenting a financial picture:
Nationally this sector accounts for total revenues over $4 billion with western Canada accounting for a dominant share, 65.9 percent, of Canadian agricultural equipment manufacturing. In 2018, agricultural equipment manufacturing in Western Canada contributed an estimated $2.6 billion in revenue with total salaries and wages accounting for $488 million.
For the breakdown of employment, the report found that 87% of the businesses are micro, meaning they have 1 to 4 employees, or small, with 5 to 99 employees. Regardless of their size, they are productive in their own right. The report continues, “Based on 2018 data for small and medium sized enterprises, industry averages for revenue was $996,900 with 72 percent of establishments being profitable. Financial performance data was reported for 311 businesses with an annual revenue range of $30,000 to $5 million.”
Besides showing these numbers, the report later states:
Impacts of interoperability will be affecting the industry in 2020 as one OEM’s starts restricting access to short line manufactures equipment. A survey of implement dealers has indicated a significant drop in orders of short line manufacture combine headers for the coming year and in to the future.
From table 4, dealers of agriculture equipment have indicated a reduction in intentions to purchase headers from short line manufactures base on the past five-year average. The current sales, specifically in OEM 1 mainline dealers, could see sales numbers decreasing by as much as 60 percent this year over the five-year average. A further reduction in future sales is predicted moving forward.
Again, so many of our SMEs are independent from major brands. They tend to make their own innovative pieces of equipment that are meant to connect with others produced by different companies, which are often the bigger players. If restrictions tighten on equipment users and engineers with the expanding use of digital locks, these small competitors and innovators will die out as time goes on. Everybody will lose. What has to be understood here is the nature of a rural economy and how it all works. Rural areas have small populations that are spread further apart. They cannot afford to lose the people or the jobs they have. It is nothing less than their survival that is at stake.
Section 92 of the Copyright Act mandates that it be reviewed every five years, and we have reached that designated time for reviewing it. Both Parliament and the government have been taking steps toward updating our copyright laws, and this bill is exactly in line with what needs to be done to improve it. The work has been done and the change is ready to be made.
Bill C-294 will provide a clear, limited exemption for consumers and innovators who simply wish to enable their devices or machinery to interoperate with other equipment, as they were always able to do in the past. My conversations with other members across party lines has been encouraging, and I look forward to discussing it with more of my colleagues.
This is a simple update to make sure that our Copyright Act is fair for everyone, while also making sure that it is in line with our international commitments and our international trade agreements with other countries, while in the meanwhile making sure that we are on the same level playing field as other signatories in the CUSMA deal.
I believe that as a Parliament we can work together to see this bill gets it done.