Heritage Minister James Moore says he's hoping for long-languishing amendments to the Copyright Act to pass by Christmas, but the Supreme Court of Canada could wind up forcing more tinkering with the law.
Canada's top court said Thursday it will rule on five separate intellectual property cases together as a bundle, and what it decides could directly impact the Act or at least its interpretation.
Mr. Moore told The Canadian Press in an interview that the Conservative government will re-introduce its copyright bill this fall, in exactly the same form as legislation that died with the last Parliament.
The measures will go back to a legislative committee for study, and Mr. Moore said groups who testified before MPs won't be asked back to comment again.
“We've taken a couple runs at it before in minority Parliaments, but we think that we have a very good formula with the old Bill C-32 and when we come forward with our legislative agenda this fall we want to pick up where we left off, which is to continue the study of the legislation,” Mr. Moore said.
“This is long overdue in Canada. We did so much consultation, so much preparation, there was such a depth of understanding of the legislation that we tabled that we want to continue the study of that legislation.”
One of the hotly debated issues around the bill, around how educators are able to use copyrighted materials, has now popped up before the Supreme Court.
The justices will be hearing a case about whether grade school teachers who make copies of textbooks for their students should be shielded from paying tariffs.
The same issue came up before the Commons committee last March. Groups who represent educators and provincial ministers of education would like to see more explicit protection for classroom copying included in the “fair dealing” section of the Act, while those who represent publishers say they deserve to be compensated for the textbooks they create.
NDP heritage critic Charlie Angus said the government should be listening to criticism of the bill and making changes before it is forced to by the courts.
“There are problems that need to be fixed and we can do this in a collaborative way or a confrontational way, but I would prefer to get this bill done,” Mr. Angus said.
“I want to know that they're actually listening to the witnesses, because witnesses have identified some serious shortfalls with the bill that can be fixed.”
Successive Liberal and Conservative governments have struggled to modernize the Copyright Act and bring it into line with international treaties for more than a decade.
Often the changes have become mired in a cabinet tug-of-war between the industry and heritage ministers, who are lobbied intensely by consumers, big entertainment companies, education groups, creators and especially the U.S. government.
Internal U.S. embassy cables posted by Wikileaks this year suggested former industry minister Maxime Bernier offered to show American officials a previous copyright bill before it was tabled in Parliament.
The cables also detailed how the office of another former industry minister, Tony Clement, suggested Washington include Canada on an international piracy watchlist in order to push legislative efforts along.
Critics have suggested that a controversial provision of the bill that makes picking a “digital lock” illegal – circumventing a company's technology to share a piece of music, for example – is about protecting the interests of powerful North American corporations.
Mr. Moore rejects the criticism that the Conservative government has crafted its legislation to appease the United States. He notes that elements of the bill run contrary to what Washington would have preferred.
“Our approach is a uniquely Canadian approach, it's balanced, the legal dynamic in the United States is entirely different from that in Canada as well,” he said.
“They have over a hundred years of copyright litigation and jurisprudence behind them that is different than the dynamic that exists in Canada, No. 1. No. 2, with regard to seeing legislation, I can tell you that nobody saw Bill C-32 before Canadians saw it when we tabled it in the Parliament of Canada.”