When news came down last month that the United States had placed Canada on an international watch list of the worst digital pirate havens and copyright offenders in the world, many MPs on Parliament Hill rolled their eyes.
They'd heard this refrain before.
Canada has "gained a regrettable but well-deserved reputation as a safe haven for Internet pirates," states a 2008 report from the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA), which is used by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to create its list of worldwide piracy hotbeds.
"Canada remains far behind virtually all its peers in the industrialized world with respect to its efforts to bring its copyright laws up to date with the realities of the global digital networked environment," the report states, referring to the fact Canada's copyright law has not changed since 1997, two years before Napster and four before the first iPod.
Some of the other 11 countries on this year's edition of the Special 301 list from the USTR include Algeria, Thailand, Pakistan, Israel and Indonesia.
"I don't think MPs take this seriously, and they shouldn't take it seriously," said Charlie Angus, the federal NDP's critic for culture, heritage and digital issues. "People looked at it and said it's absurd. To treat your No. 1 trading partner like this, a partner that's been right in the forefront when it comes to dealing with a lot of these issues."
This is not Canada's first appearance on the Special 301 list. Canada has been on the list for several years, it was only upgraded to a higher threat level this year. Under heavy influence from the U.S. entertainment lobbies, the U.S. government's sights remained trained on Canada, as it attempts to pressure one of its largest trading partners into falling in line with other nations who have enacted new copyright legislation to deal with the digital reality.
However, a new report from BayTSP, a U.S. firm that tracks copyright content for the music and movie industries, found that Canada is dropping in the world rankings when it comes to claims of copyright infringement. Spain, Italy and France all have at least five times the number of claims as Canada, according to a recent report.
Despite this, international pressure is still mounting on Canada to start taking copyright seriously.
Countries around the world are debating and instituting measures to stem the flow of copyright-infringing work. France has passed new legislation that would create a new government department with the power to cut off Internet service to users found to be sharing copyrighted material. And Sweden recently took aim at The Pirate Bay, a website that indexes files that allow pirates to browse and download everything from music and movies to games and software, sentencing its four founders to jail terms and imposing millions of dollars in fines.
The IIPA has called on Canada to update its legislation with similar measures, including beefing up border security to stop the flow of counterfeit goods, putting greater pressure on Internet service providers (ISPs) to police the actions of their users and create new laws that would give rights holders and the entertainment industry greater legal power to sue the operators of file sharing services.
Yet here at home, Canadian politicians would prefer to avoid the topic entirely.
"We've got a situation where the term copyright has become a political hot-button issue," Mr. Angus, said. "You mention copyright on Parliament Hill and pretty much all the politicians run to their respective bunkers and put their helmets on."
For more than a decade, successive governments have failed to overhaul the Canada Copyright Act, much to the chagrin of some of the country's trading partners.
In that time, copyright issues became relevant to ordinary Canadians. When the rise of digital media and the Internet gave Canadians increased control over how they consumed and produced media, copyright issues instantly became more visible. Whether its posting a video with copyrighted music to YouTube or digital rights management technology on CDs, copyright went from being something Canadians only thought about while fast forwarding the FBI warnings on DVDs to something they confronted in their day to day lives.