Conference Board of Canada issues new, balanced copyright report

The Conference Board of Canada has issued a report on intellectual property that offers a balanced, non-partisan look at technology issues including digital locks and private copying.

Most importantly, it isn’t plagiarized.

Last May, the Conference Board retracted a trio of reports about copyright in the digital age and admitted much of the content was plagiarized. Worse still, the reports borrowed statistics and comment from the International Intellectual Property Alliance, a U.S.-based lobby group for the entertainment industry.

The reports claimed Canada had the most copyright infringement per capita.

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But the report issued last week, Intellectual Property in the 21st Century, penned by Osgoode Hall Law School professor Ruth M. Corbin, backs away from such claims and strikes a balance between the arguments put forward on all sides of the copyright debate.

“We did carry out the quality process we usually have at the Conference Board,” says Gilles Rhéaume, vice-president public policy. “It has covered the landscape we needed to cover and is based on getting balanced perspectives.”

The problems that led to publishing the plagiarized reports last year have been dealt with, Rhéaume says. “We looked at what caused it, we fixed it, and now we have a process in place to avoid it in the future.”

University of Ottawa-based Internet law expert Michael Geist was the first to flag the original plagiarism. In his blog, he writes that the Conference Board’s latest 113-page report shows a vast improvement.

“While there is much to digest, the lead takeaway is to marvel at the difference between a report cribbed from lobby speaking points and one that attempts to dig into the issues in a more balanced fashion,” he writes.

The new report says that Canada must ratify the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Internet Treaties that it signed in 1997. Those treaties require laws that prevent tampering with Technological Protection Measures (TPMs) or digital locks. But Corbin also notes that Canada should take into account fair dealing exceptions when making such laws.

“No one argues creators shouldn’t get paid for the work they’ve created,” Rhéaume says. Sites that infringe copyright en masse and offer free downloads of movies and music via peer-to-peer torrent files should be stopped, but a teenager who shares a song with a friend shouldn’t be lumped in that category.

The report also points out that WIPO has been implemented differently in each jurisdiction where it’s been ratified – the U.S., Europe, Japan and Australia. It recommends that laws preventing circumvention of TPMs be cautiously crafted and limited in scope.

“The Conference Board report now points to the flexibility in the WIPO Internet Treaties and the possibility of Canadian customization,” Geist writes. “This is precisely what many fair copyright supporters argued during the national copyright consultation and it is good to see the Conference Board now reach the same conclusion.”

Public copyright consultations were held over summer 2008 by Minister of Industry Tony Clement and Minister of Canadian Heritage James Moore. Issues such as TPMs and fair dealing were hot topics for debate.

Strong proponents can be found at both sides of the argument, Rhéaume says. Some are adamant that all peer-to-peer sharing is piracy, while others see industry powers bullying their own fans.

“That doesn’t help the debate,” he says. “It’s adversarial and it doesn’t help policy makers come up with reasonable solutions.

The report also deals with the role Internet service providers (ISPs) play in policing instances of copyright infringement online.

Currently, the report points out, major carriers such as Rogers Communications Inc., Bell Canada and Telus Corp. follow a “notice and notice” system of passing on complaints from industry groups that seek to have users cut off from accessing unauthorized copyrighted material.

Other approaches include a “notice and takedown” system that would see ISPs blocking users from infringing upon copyrighted material. ISPs could also use the same technologies they use to manage network traffic to throttle the connection of users who access unauthorized content.

“There is a difference between sites that are doing this on a high-volume and some individuals that are doing it on their own,” Rhéaume says. Privacy issues of methods such as deep-packet inspection (DPI) must also be considered, since this could reveal to the ISP the type of content the user is accessing.

ISPs should disclose such practices in their service agreements, the report says.

Overall, the report aims to lay out the facts and evidence presented on a wide range of topics affecting intellectual property rights in Canada, Rhéaume says. The goal of a well-crafted intellectual property policy should be to provide incentives to creators to create, and for creative works to be widely distributed, he says.

“There are some decisions that are political in the end. It’s a very qualitative, but important issue to grapple with.”

The report appears to be done in good faith and with a non-partisan approach, Geist says.

The Conference Board of Canada hopes its report will find its way into the hands of legislators before an expected upcoming debate about copyright law reform.

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