Bill C-11 review has copyright reform bill hitting the home stretch

The Canadian copyright reform bill known as Bill C-11 immediately spawned a dichotomy between supporters and opponents when it was initially introduced as Bill C-32 back in June 2010.

Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore notoriously labelled all who oppose the bill as "radical extremists," taking a strong — and rather hyperbolic — stance in support of the Conservative bill. Meanwhile, Canadians across the country have spoken out against such copyright reform by planning protests, joining anti-Bill C-11 Facebook groups and contacting their local MPs.

But as we hit the home stretch with this week's "clause-by-clause" review by the Bill C-11 legislative committee, an intriguing role reversal seems to have caught at least one pundit by surprise.

"Moore's vision of strong support from copyright lobby groups has been replaced by demands to overhaul the legislation with a broad array of extreme measures, while the supposed critics — library groups, educators, consumer associations, and individual Canadians — have endorsed much of the legislation with only requests for modest changes to the controversial digital lock provisions," explains Michael Geist, Internet and E-commerce law professor at the University of Ottawa, in the Toronto Star.

"This certainly wasn't the scenario Moore and the government envisioned when then Bill C-32 (which later became Bill C-11) was tabled."

Supporting groups that represent the movie, music and software industries were quick to thank the Harper government for pushing this bill forward. Yet in the past two weeks, those very same groups have "steadily marched to Parliament Hill to demand significant reforms," according to Geist.

"The Canadian Independent Music Association is seeking changes that would create new liability risks for social networking sites, search engines, blogging platforms, video sites, and many other websites featuring third party contributions. It is also calling for a new iPod tax, an extension in the term of copyright, a removal of protections for user generated content, parody, and satire, as well as an unlimited statutory damage awards and a content takedown system with no court oversight."

Geist adds that music groups in Quebec have requested a requirement for providers to disclose customer information to copyright owners without court approval, "a change that even Conservative MPs noted looks a lot like the widely criticized lawful access legislation."

The Canadian Library Association, on the other hand, has put forward only two suggested amendments that dramatically contrast the entertainment industry's demand for radical change.

"The first focused on ensuring that a provision on facilitating access for the visually impaired be consistent with an international treaty currently being developed at the World Intellectual Property Organization," shares Geist, who has emerged as the go-to source for updates on Bill C-11.

"The second would ensure that rights holders enjoy legal protection for digital locks but that such protection is linked to actual copyright infringement. That approach — which is widely endorsed by consumer groups and many businesses — is consistent with international law and the practices of some of our trading partners."

This week's "clause-by-clause" review had left 39 amendments on the table: 17 from the NDP, 14 from the Liberals and eight from the Tories. Geist's personal blog has a quick summary of the proposed amendments by party, but upon the conclusion of the review, the eight government amendments were successfully added while the 31 opposition amendments were effectively shelved.

"The (added) amendments included an expanded enabler provision and some modest tinkering to other elements of the bill," explains Geist. "In the days leading up to the clause-by-clause review, many focused on three key issues: no SOPA-style amendments such as website blocking or warrantless disclosure of information, maintaining the fair dealing balance found in the bill, and amending the digital lock provisions."

"By that standard, the changes could have been a lot worse. The government expanded the enabler provision, though not as broadly as CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants) requested. Virtually all other copyright lobby demands — website blocking, notice-and-takedown, iPod tax, copyright term extension, disclosure of subscriber information - were rejected."

Moreover, certain provisions such as Internet provider liability, user generated content protection, format shifting, time shifting, statutory damages reform and backup copies remained untouched. According to Geist, "this represents a major victory for the many Canadians and groups such as Open Media that spoke out on these issues."

Bill C-11 is still several steps away from being passed. The House of Commons will conduct a third reading in the near future, and from there the bill must pass a Senate review, followed by royal assent. And though this may sound like a lengthy process, Geist believes the Canadian copyright reform is "well on its way to completion before the summer starts."

But that's no reason for the many interested Canadian voices to go silent.

"As for the weeks ahead, Canadians must continue to make their views known to their MPs and the government ministers," says Geist. "Canadians should continue to speak out in order to preserve the many good provisions in Bill C-11 and hold out hope that modifications to digital locks — or at least a commitment to some additional exceptions via regulation — are possible."

With the new developments in mind, where do you stand with regards to Bill C-11? Let us know in the comments below.

(Reuters photo)