Canadian Government Reintroduces Copyright Modernization Act
Canadian Government Reintroduces Copyright Modernization Act

Canada's copyright reform bill is defunct again. Bill C-32, which had gotten past the second hearing in November, afterprevious bills failed to move beyond the first stage in 2006 and 2008, died when a general election was called for May 2.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's minority Conservative government lost a non-confidence vote on Friday, and Saturday asked the Governor General to dissolve parliament. As a result, all pending legislation in the House of Commons and Senate dies.

"In the words of Monty Python, it is a dead parrot," Graham Henderson, president of the Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA), told "As to the implications, it's up to the next government to make that call. If we get a Conservative government again, whether a minority or majority, it will remain a priority. It was a priority. So the hope would be that it would be reintroduced at some point after the recall of parliament."

The Copyright Act of Canada was first passed in 1921 and was significantly amended in 1988 and again in 1997, but is widely viewed as obsolete considering today's rapidly growing technology. Canada is repeatedly called out as a major facilitator of worldwide piracy.

While there was some friction within the music industry over certain points and exceptions, the main issues in Bill C-32 were the absence of an extension to the private copying levy and the elimination of the broadcast mechanical tariff. Two areas that were not in contention were developing digital locks that balance the rights of consumers and copyright holders; and the crackdown on file-sharing sites through the extension of the secondary infringement provisions.

The bill (which will be renamed) will have to go through the same process as previous bills -- it will be introduced for a first reading, then passed to a second hearing and hopefully onto the next stage, a Committee of the Whole debating each clause (and eventually passed).

"There's no reason why the Committee couldn't be reconstituted fairly quickly," Henderson said. "And I would assume also that the learning of the last three months wouldn't be dispensed with, that either the government would have a choice to fix some of the obvious problems that were brought to their attention or they could just pick up where they left off -- and hopefully not call back all 100 witnesses."

If the bill can be reintroduced at the same stage it is at right now, fast-tracked in a way through each hearing with the unanimous consent of the House, then it can get to the Committee stage fairly quickly, and a decision could be made by this time next year.

"My concern is looking at available House time," says Henderson, in reference to all the shuffles that could take place to cabinet after the election and all the other bills on the agenda. That is if it is a Conservative minority government again.

"My guess is we're going to be looking at a reintroduction of this bill sometime in the fall and if that's the case, then I would hope that we'll be celebrating a law at the next Junos in Ottawa," says Henderson. "So this is unfortunate. Let's hope it's just a hiccup. If they hadn't had this election, I think they would have been proclaiming C-32 as the law by the summer."

If the Liberals win, the process will take longer. "They've already indicated the changes that they would have liked to have seen to it," says Henderson. "So you'd hope that if it was a Liberal or a Coalition government that they would take their learning and make their changes. The possibility for long delays that would take us well into 2012 abound."