Friday, February 26, 2010

ACTA & Copyright Reform

While Canadian delegations work with other countries to negotiate ACTA, Canadians await the next round of attempted copyright reform. The last two copyright bills, C-60 and C-61 died with changes of government. While parts of the first Liberal bill was seen to some extent to be acceptable, elements of the Conservative C-61 bill were fiercely opposed.

From recent reports it seems as though ACTA would block Canada into a corner on certain aspects of copyright reform, undermining the Canadian notice-and-notice regime for ISP liability and Canadian proposals for DRM circumvention laws, for example.

What will be the effect of ACTA on Canadian copyright reform?

The effect of ACTA on Canadian copyright reform depends on how the negotiations go. The goal of the Canadian delegation negotiating ACTA will likely be to preserve policy space for Canadian copyright lawmaking, and to negotiate an ACTA that will enable a Canadian copyright bill that is acceptable to Canadians and passable in Canadian Parliament. If the delegation succeeds, and a flexible ACTA that Canadians are comfortable with is the outcome, then we have little to worry about. This, for the moment, seems unlikely.

If the delegation does not succeed, and the ACTA that is finally agreed by negotiating parties contains elements that seem unsavory from the Canadian perspective or that would cut off policy options that the Canadian government wants to preserve, then Canada has the option to refrain from signing the treaty. This has happened in the past. When the 1967 revision of the Berne Convention was signed, Canada was in the middle of a copyright policy overhaul. Because of this, after participating in the negotiations, Canada did not sign the revision, which never came into effect anyway. Similarly, Canada negotiated actively but did not sign the 1971 revision of the Berne Convention - which remains the current revision of the treaty - , and avoided acceding to that revision of the convention until 1998. Canada also negotiated actively but did not sign the 1971 revision of the Universal Copyright Convention. Again, this was due to the desire, on the part of the Canadian government, to allow Canadian policy options to remain open for the domestic decision-making process to take place.

If Canada signs an ACTA that contains controversial elements from the Canadian perspective, things could go one of two ways. Policymakers and interest groups may accept that the field of policy options has narrowed, that Canada has committed to certain policies, the debate around copyright reform may be encompassed within new terms, and several options that were once controversial will have been pre-decided via the international process. Effectively, domestic policy-making procedures will have been circumvented, and any new Canadian copyright act will fall within the parameters set by ACTA, perhaps passing more easily because some of the controversial elements have been taken out of the debate.

Alternately, copyright reform could become even more difficult. Those groups who are in favour of the policy options contained within ACTA will have a stronger argument as to why Canada should include those elements in any new act, while opponents will criticize the government for having short-circuited the domestic process. They will argue that Canada should not implement ACTA. At the same time, the Canadian government will be under more pressure from other parties to the ACTA to implement. This situation could lead to an even longer period of indecision and difficulty in Canadian copyright reform.

update: see Blayne Haggart's post on this same topic
update 2: see Blayne Haggart's post on how ACTA could slow copyright reform in Mexico

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