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Members of the media are seen on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in this file photo. (Dave Chan For The Globe and Mail)
Members of the media are seen on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in this file photo. (Dave Chan For The Globe and Mail)

Ottawa seeks use of news footage without permission in political ads Add to ...

The Harper government is preparing to alter copyright law in Canada so politicians can use news footage and other journalistic content for attack ads and campaign spots without asking broadcasters or publishers for permission.

The measure would constitute an intervention into the intellectual property rights of broadcasters and other news organizations by a Conservative government that styles itself as laissez faire.

Broadcasters for years have complained about political parties producing advertising that borrowed news content such as video without approval, saying it could compromise “journalistic independence,” and earlier in 2014 vowed they would no longer air ads that relied on infringing material.

CTV News, citing a memo to cabinet, reported Wednesday night that the government has been working on a new “copyright exception for political advertising” that would be inserted into a budget implementation bill.

The memo warns the measure will be controversial.

“Given its legal and political complexity, and the speed with which the exception was developed, there may be unforeseen circumstances that create unintended consequences,” it says, before advising “a strong communications plan will be required to manage vocal stakeholder reactions.”

It also warned that “creators of news” including “broadcasters, newspaper and periodical publishers, and ‘news’ photographers will vehemently claim that their work is being unfairly targeted for the benefit of political parties.”

The Conservative government declined to offer any comment on the matter Wednesday, including on whether it is proceeding with this measure.

The Tories have come under fire for using clips from TV footage or other news content without permission in negative political ads.

In 2013, Liberal MP Stéphane Dion filed a complaint with Elections Canada over a Conservative attack ad that included footage shot by the Huffington Post as well as clips from an interview Mr. Trudeau gave to CTV, both used without approval. Mr. Dion alleged the “unauthorized use of this material” contravened election law because “unpaid use of copyrighted material” is in effect a “non-monetary contribution” to the Conservative Party.

Sources said staff in Canadian Heritage Minister Shelly Glover’s office have been contacting senior broadcast executives to arrange discussions on a matter that would affect the industry.

The cabinet memo says the proposed copyright exception “would allow free use of ‘news’ content in political advertisements intended to promote or oppose a politician or political party, or a position on a related issue.”

It would be available for use by “political actors,” meaning “publicly elected officials, party leaders and those who intend to seek such positions” as well as registered political parties.

News content would have to meet three criteria for this exemption, the cabinet memo says. It would have to be published or made available through TV broadcasts or platforms such as YouTube. It would have to be obtained from a news source such as a news program or newspaper or periodical. And it would have to feature a political actor operating in that person’s capacity as a politician, or relate to a political issue.

This past May, major broadcasters including CTV, CBC, Global and Rogers sent a letter to all federal and provincial parties serving notice that they would no longer “accept any political advertisement which uses our content without our express authorization.”

The cabinet memo notes broadcasters would still be free to refuse advertising but, it added, during a political campaign the rules are different.

“During an election, broadcasters must provide a certain amount of advertising time to political parties,” the memo says.

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