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Maureen Parker of the Writers Guild says the bill shifts the burden to artists.

Fred Chartrand / CP/Fred Chartrand / CP

The federal government is pushing ahead with a bill to update Canada's copyright laws, while opposition to the proposed legislation is gathering steam among creators and cultural groups. The artists say the bill gives consumers new rights and big producers new laws, but doesn't compensate individual creators for new uses of their work.

Bill C-32 will receive its second reading in the House of Commons on Tuesday. Although all three opposition parties have criticized aspects of the bill, they are expected to pass it in principle so that it can move to the legislative committee that would discuss amendments. At this stage, however, amendments could only address existing language; new issues could not be added.

That aspect of parliamentary process may stymie the artists' attempts to get the government to address their complaints that current systems for compensating copyright holders need to be extended to new technology. For example, there is a levy on blank cassettes and CDs that compensates songwriters and musicians for the copying of their music; the government has been adamant, however, that such a levy will not be applied to digital players such as iPods.

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"It attacks a system that has been a Canadian solution for decades," Alain Pineau, national director of the Canadian Conference of the Arts, said of the bill's failure to extend copyright collectives into the digital era. "It bypasses that in favour of lawsuits."

Cultural industries - record companies, movie distributors and video-game makers - are largely supportive of the bill but believe it needs some tweaking to toughen it. Users groups are pleased to see common practices such as format shifting and time shifting legalized, but are outraged that producers will be able to install digital locks on video games, movies and CDs that could trump the users' rights. The artistic community, however, says the whole law is flawed because it relies so heavily on the courts to decide what is fair and what isn't, a route it says only big producers can afford.

"It really shifts the burden to the artists," said Maureen Parker, executive director of the Writers Guild of Canada, which represents screenwriters. "It is not our job to police and enforce this. It's their job to draft legislation that is forward-thinking and enforceable." For example, Parker said the law would allow users to copy movies for their family and friends, but does not define what a friend is.

The creative community got support from an unusual source last month when the Quebec Bar Association also came out against the bill as it is currently written, arguing it would only encourage litigation.

In a letter to Industry Minister Tony Clement, the association's director Gilles Ouimet lists many deficiencies in the bill, questions whether it brings Canada into line with international law and writes that it "negates the collective exercise of copyright and favours individual litigation through unpractical and unrealistic remedies."

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