Conference Board of Canada recalls copyright piracy reports, admits plagiarism

Admitting that they plagiarized, the Conference Board of Canada has withdrawn a trio of reports on copyright piracy in Canada, despite initially defending the research.

The reports Intellectual Property Rights in the Digital Economy; National Innovation Performance and Intellectual Property Rights: A Comparative Analysis; and, Intellectual Property Rights-Creating Value and Stimulating Investment have all been recalled. They painted a picture of Canadians as voracious file-swappers, leading the world in unauthorized downloads.

Though at first defending the reports, Anne Golden, president and CEO of the Conference Board, says she later determined they plagiarized after asking for a line-by-line review to be conducted.

“We had been disproportionately dependent on these two source documents, and the fact is there were a significant number of tracks that were plagiarized by our own standards,” she says. “Our own guidelines make it clear you can’t include long sections and then just footnote [them].”

The Conference Board is a non-profit group, well known for its independent research reports on a variety of topics. Its slogan is “insights you can count on.”

Allegations of plagiarism were made by Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa. In a Monday morning blog post, Geist noted that several sections of a Conference Board report were very similar to a 2008 report from the International Intellectual Property Alliance.

That group is a pro-copyright lobby representing U.S. movie, music and software interests.

The Conference Board was right to recall the reports, Geist says.

“They should have done this at the very beginning,” he says. “They would have saved themselves the negative press.”

Beyond alleging plagiarism in the report (Intellectual Property Rights in the Digital Economy), Geist had also called it “deceptive and misleading.”

The report claimed Canadians had the most unauthorized downloads per capita, and had downloaded 65 times more pirated content than legal content.

But these statistics were pulled from sources that didn’t verify those claims, Geist notes.

“This was policy laundering,” he says. “You had reports written by the copyright lobby that were parroted. That doesn’t befit an independent research organization.”

But the reports were not intended to please any particular lobby, Golden says.

“I don’t believe there was any academic dishonesty or an attempt to respond to specific pressure,” she says. “I just believe the work was not up to research standards.”

The report was funded by pro-copyright lobby groups such as the Canadian Anti-Counterfeiting Network, Copyright Collective of Canada, and both the U.S. and Canadian Chambers of Commerce.

Though the Ministry of Innovation was also named as having provided funding, that $15,000 was actually put towards a conference being held in Toronto today titled, Intellectual Property Rights: Innovation and Commercialization in Turbulent Times. The featured speaker is Michael Bryant, president and CEO of Invest Toronto and former Minister of Economic Development in the Ontario government.

The Ministry if Innovation was given credit for funding because the conference and the research were considered part of the same package, Golden says.

The reports recommended tougher copyright enforcement and stricter laws in Canada, similar to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that was implemented in the U.S. in 1998.

The U.S. recently placed Canada on its “Priority Watch List” for what it says is lax enforcement of copyright law, and failure to pass legislation that ratifies World Intellectual Property Organization treaties on Internet law.

“The DMCA is not the only way of being compliant with these treaties,” Geist says. “There’s a great deal of flexibility in the law and a lot of openness about how Canada can be compliant.”

The Conference Board reports had also entirely ignored a report it had commissioned from independent researcher Jeremy de Beer, also from the University of Ottawa. In a Tuesday blog post, de Beer shares his conclusions, which are very different from those raised in the now-recalled trio of reports.

“Canada’s laws governing IPRs (intellectual property rights) are recognized to be very good, but could be improved,” he writes. “With respect to copyright in the digital environment, three priority issues to deal with are implementing treaty provisions regarding TPMs (technological protective measures), clarifying intermediaries’ liabilities and obligations, and enabling greater use of flexibilities and limitations.”

The research by de Beer must not have been considered relevant, Golden says.

“You commission reports and sometimes they disappoint you,” she says. “In general, it is not obligatory to include every single report one looks at in your own report.”

The authors of the withdrawn reports will not be revealed by the Conference Board, Golden says. They no longer work with the Board, though for reasons not associated with these reports.

An internal review of the work done will now be conducted, Golden says.

It will be determined how typical procedures were not followed, including having an external review of the reports conducted. The reports won’t be published gain unless they are re-written and go through the internal quality process.

Meanwhile, the jury is out on whether the Conference Board’s credibility has taken a hit or not.

“It is difficult, as a Canadian, to see this country being continually run down when the data doesn’t support that,” Geist says. “This really undermines all the claims that Canada needs to move forward on the copyright issue.”

The Conference Board can publish up to 150 reports a year, Golden says. In her eight years as CEO, this is the first report that has ever been recalled.

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