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Think tank's approach to Hollywood: Copy that

One of Canada's most respected research organizations has a black eye after being forced to withdraw three reports on copyright and intellectual property because they contained plagiarized information from a study by a U.S. lobby group for the entertainment industry.

The Conference Board of Canada said it recalled the reports Thursday after an internal investigation showed that they relied too heavily on - and included entire paragraphs lifted from - a document produced by the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA).

As a result, the IIPA and Conference Board reports were similarly critical of Canada's failure to update its copyright legislation and ratify international intellectual property treaties. The two reports proposed the same solutions for the role Internet service providers should play in combatting piracy, and they both suggested harsher penalties for anyone found to be operating services that allow free sharing of files.

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The IIPA is one of a number of international lobby groups putting pressure on Ottawa to update the Copyright Act, which has not changed since 1997, four years before the first iPod went on sale.

The industry wants new laws that would protect digital locks on CDs and DVDs and would make it easier to prosecute the owners of file-sharing services that allow users to download music and movies without paying.

The recall represents an about-face for the Conference Board, which initially stood behind its research after University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist on Monday accused the organization of cribbing from the IIPA in its report, "Intellectual Property Rights in the Digital Economy."

For advocates of copyright reform, it's more than a question of plagiarism. The incident raises fresh concerns, they say, over the influence the U.S. entertainment lobby has on Canada's copyright debate and the objectivity of Canadian research groups tasked with investigating intellectual property and piracy issues.

And it comes at a time when the copyright debate is heating up. Heritage Minister James Moore has said new federal copyright legislation could be introduced as early as this fall.

Conference Board president and chief executive officer Anne Golden said she ordered a "line by line" review of the reports after learning of the allegations made by Mr. Geist. She made the decision to recall the documents when she discovered they did not comply with the board's plagiarism guidelines and that they were not sent to an external reviewer before being published.

"These reports did not meet our standards," Ms. Golden said in an interview. "I found out these did not go to an external challenger. What we produce here is always reviewed externally as well as internally, so when I found out about those violations I recalled them."

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Ms. Golden said the Conference Board produces between 150 and 200 reports every year, and that this is the first time in her eight years with the organization that it has recalled a research report.

The IIPA report is the same document the Office of the United States Trade Representative uses to create its Special 301 Report on Copyright Protection and Enforcement, which placed Canada on a priority watch list of the worst piracy and copyright infringing nations on the planet this year.

The Conference Board's decision to pull the reports is an important first step, Mr. Geist said, but the organization needs to dig deeper for better data on piracy rates in Canada in order to paint an accurate portrait of the copyright landscape in this country. Mr. Geist also disputes the veracity of the data in the IIPA report.

"If they take the time to review the reports and conduct the kind of analysis that they say they are thinking about doing, I think they will find that there are significant inaccuracies," he said. "I think this calls into question the validity of a lot of the claims about Canada being a so-called piracy haven. If those claims are being based on fabricated and plagiarized data, what does it say about the claims themselves?"

Reports such as the IIPA's are part of a larger strategy designed to "embarrass and pressure" Canada into copyright reforms that are slanted in favour of the U.S. entertainment industries rather than Canadian consumers, Mr. Geist said.

Also this week, University of Ottawa law professor Jeremy De Beer said that the Conference Board commissioned him to research copyright issues in Canada a year ago and that his findings - which were largely excluded from the report - differed greatly from those found in the final product.

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Although some media reports suggested that the Conference Board received $15,000 (Canadian) from the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation to help produce the report, a spokeswoman for the ministry said that was not the case.

A spokeswoman for the Conference Board said the organization does take public money for some of its research but confirmed that no public money was spent on the recalled reports.

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