Sarmite Bulte, the Liberal MP who brought a national focus to copyright issues in recent weeks, was defeated by her NDP rival Monday, leading some experts to believe that her copyright stance was her undoing.
Bulte, the Liberal incumbent in Toronto’s Parkdale-High Park riding, drew derision from advocacy groups like the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic and the Electronic Frontier Foundation when she held a $250-a-plate fundraiser last week. The event was sponsored by the Canadian Motion Picture Distributors Association, the Entertainment Software Alliance, the Canadian Recording Industry Association and the Canadian Publishers Council.
Detractors pointed the finger at Bulte, calling her event a conflict of interest, particularly in light of her official position and the fact that she authored a copyright report calling for tougher laws in 2004. W ith the support of CIPPIC and the EFF, Online Rights Canada organized its own free event to counter what it called the “Copyright Cartel’s Big Banquet.”
Following Monday’s election, Bulte lost her seat to NDP candidate Peggy Nash by just over 2,000 votes.
The attention Bulte’s event drew “sends a clear signal,” said Michael Geist, Internet lawyer and University of Ottawa research chair.
Geist drew attention to the Bulte fundraiser in his blog, which was eventually picked up by popular site boingboing.net and publicized in various media outlets, including ITBusiness.ca.
Whether the fundraiser directly affected Bulte’s re-election chances is open for debate, he said, but “one of the outcomes of this election and the outcry that you saw happen over the last three weeks is that all parties will better recognize the need to account for all stakeholders.”
“Even if people didn’t make their decision based on (Bulte’s) copyright policy, I think that her handling of the controversy was amazingly damaging to her,” said Ren Bucholz, the EFF representative who organized the Online Rights event.
Bulte’s office did not return calls for comment. In an earlier interview, she told ITBusiness.ca, “No one can buy me for $250 or $250,000. I have been an outspoken advocate of artists and creators well before I was ever elected, because nobody speaks out for them.”
CIPPIC’s legal counsel David Fewer said that the seeds of Bulte’s ouster were sown in candidates’ meetings leading up to the election, when the copyright fundraiser first came to light.
“Politicians have long-looked at copyright as a technical/expert area that doesn’t affect ordinary Canadians. I think we saw pretty clearly in those candidates’ meetings that ordinary Canadians are very interested in what politicians are saying about copyright,” said Fewer.
There could be changes ahead for copyright as a national issue now that a change in government is assured, said Fewer, but it’s too soon to know what those changes might be.
A Conservative spokesperson said that the party has no comment on some federal issues, including copyright, until Steven Harper is official the country’s prime minister.
“There’s a lot of people scratching their heads today as to what this will mean,” said Geist. “Given just how contentious copyright can be, some might say that they will tread carefully. I would also think that a Tory government at this stage would want to re-examine some of the Liberal policies.”
There may be revisions ahead for copyright in Canada, said Bucholz, but generally the issue is not decided by party politics. In the U.S., for example, Republicans and Democrats tend to fall on both sides of the copyright debate. It’s also been more than a decade since the Conservatives last held power in Canada, which was well before many contemporary copyright issues came to light.
“With the Tories coming in, I guess we’re cautiously optimistic,” said Fewer. “We’re hopeful that we’re actually going to see some pretty reasonable and Canadian-oriented copyright proposals now.”