Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Lifting the lid on backroom deals in copyright

Michael Geist has been lifting the lid on Canadian lobbyists' success in the copyright arena.

"The mushrooming controversy over Toronto MP Sarmite Bulte's coming Thursday night fundraiser hosted by the entertainment lobby is a powerful illustration of the public's growing interest in copyright issues as well as the emerging influence of Internet weblogs or blogs. The incident has opened the door to a new public discussion of the links between lobbying, campaign contributions, elected officials and the making of copyright law and policy that promises to continue well beyond next Monday's election..

The Bulte controversy has highlighted the close connection between Canada' s Parliamentary Secretary for Canadian Heritage and the largely U.S.-backed copyright lobby with many copyright groups contributing hundreds of dollars exclusively to the Parkdale-High Park MP. Beyond the Bulte story, lobbyist registration records, campaign finance returns, and documents newly obtained under the Access to Information Act reveal a process that is badly skewed toward lobby interests and in serious need of reform...

The copyright lobby also meets regularly with government officials. A document obtained under the Access to Information Act titled “List of meetings between Canadian Heritage' s Copyright Policy Branch and its stakeholders in copyright reform” indicates that in the nearly thirteen months between April 1, 2004 and April 25, 2005, government and policy officials from that department met or held teleconferences 15 times with Access Copyright, 14 times with music collectives, seven times with CRIA, and five times with publisher associations. Meanwhile, the document lists only one meeting with education groups, two meetings with public interest groups, and two meetings with technology groups.

In fact, the close connection between the copyright lobby and government can even extend to contracts. Last year, the Canadian Publishers' Council, whose executive director is one of the hosts of the Bulte fundraiser, obtained a $20,000 contract for a “copyright awareness initiative” whose goal was to develop an Internet-based social awareness campaign to “engage young people in a new conversation about copyright.”

The cumulative effect of the lobbyist influence has left many stakeholders concerned that there is little room for the interests of the public and the balanced approach supported by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Copyright policy must be both fair and seen to be fair. It is time for a new approach that starts with a commitment from all MPs who accept funds from the copyright lobby not to serve in Ministerial positions or on legislative committees that involve copyright policy."

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