Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by acknowledging all the artists in my riding, namely those from Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, Montreal West, Lachine and Dorval, who have written to me on several occasions to explain how they are directly affected by this bill. I also acknowledge the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, whose representatives came to meet with me and tell me about the impact of this legislation on Canadian students.
I am proud to take part in the debate on copyright modernization. I want to be clear. There is no doubt that we, on this side, think that a review of the Copyright Act is long overdue. Indeed, this legislation is not up to date, and some things need to be improved. We also think that some provisions included in the bill are beneficial to both authors and consumers. However, we want to propose amendments, because we believe that, as it stands, the bill is very flawed and that, as parliamentarians, it is our duty to improve it.
The government keeps saying that we vote against various bills, that we are against the budget, that we oppose all sorts of measures, but that is false. We support many initiatives that are good for the public. Today, we are trying to make proposals so that the Conservatives pay attention to all the measures presented in this House.
We want to achieve a balance between creators and consumers. Right now, as my colleagues pointed out, artists in Canada are missing out on millions of dollars with this bill. The average income of an artist is around $12,900 a year, but we know that Canada's culture industry brings in millions of dollars for the government.
This bill seems to target certain consumers who should pay more than others for rights to which they are entitled.
The first thing that bothered me when I read the bill is the fines that the government wants to impose on those who remove digital locks for personal, non-commercial purposes. While there is no doubt that we have to deal with certain issues in this regard, the bill provides for fines of up to $1 million and a five-year term of imprisonment.
Before becoming a member of Parliament, I worked in a detention centre in Quebec. I taught there for some time. Among those there, I saw people who had assaulted children and received sentences of two years less a day. I also saw people who had participated in all kinds of illegal activities and were in a detention centre for two years less a day.
Today, I read in the bill that an individual who has pirated copyrighted material—obviously something that I do not encourage—will get five years in prison, whereas someone who has raped a child will be handed a lesser sentence. I think that there are absurdities of this nature in the bill that absolutely must be addressed, because sentences like that seem somewhat disproportionate to me.
The other thing that disturbed me about this bill is that digital locks essentially trump all other rights including the fair dealing rights of students and journalists. Allow me to explain what I mean.
Currently, where digital locks are concerned, it is a requirement that copies made for educational purposes automatically erase themselves after five days and that course notes be destroyed within 30 days of the course ending.
I was a student less than two years ago, and I still have course notes I reread at home because I find them useful and I paid for them. As a student, I was asked early in the session to pay student fees, and there was always a fee for the material we would require in class. Having paid for this material, I consider it only normal that I should still be able to use it today. Students participating in distance education are asked to do the same thing. Distance education courses are not completed overnight. And yet, data is supposed to be automatically erased within five days and course notes are to be destroyed within 30 days of the course ending. In the case of distance education, five days is clearly not enough time to make use of this data.
The other problem is that our society is increasingly trying to use digitization for ecological and environmental reasons. This creates an imbalance and stalls the promotion of the very innovative cultural formats of our time. That is what upsets me the most. Several groups came and told us that change was critical in this regard.
According to the Cultural Industries' Statement, left unamended, this bill would be toxic to Canada's digital economy.
The Writers Guild of Canada stated that “the only option that Bill C-11 offers creators is digital locks, which freezes current revenue streams for creators, and creates an illogical loophole in the copyright Bill by taking away the very rights the Bill grants to consumers in its other sections.”
More work really needs to be done on this.
The reason why we in the NDP are proposing amendments is not that we are against copyright or that we are against doing some housecleaning on this issue. We are proposing amendments because we believe that, rather than encouraging certain large cultural industries in Canada, we must go to the source and help the creators and artists in my riding and in the ridings of every member of the House. That would allow creators to make money from their work and to be paid a fair price for it, and ensure that consumer rights are not violated. In this regard, a student came to see me and told me that he had paid for class notes that he has to destroy at the end of the course. That is completely ridiculous.
In addition, the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada believes that amendments must be made to the bill to facilitate access to creative content through new media and to ensure that creators are fairly compensated for the use of their creative content through new media. This comes back to what I just said. Creators provide something to us: culture, a story, a product that is part of our identity. Yet, instead of compensating those creators, we are telling them that they will not be given a fair return under this bill.
Howard Knopf, a copyright, patent and trademark lawyer, has said that the measures to apply digital locks continue to divide Canadians and defy consensus. They are stronger than required by the WIPO treaties and stronger than necessary or desirable.
In conclusion, we are of the opinion that we must move this bill forward because a cleanup is needed. However, the amendments proposed by the NDP must also be taken into consideration so that we can accept this bill and so that it is fair for consumers, producers, artists, students and everyone who wants to have a stake in today's culture.