Bill C-32, Canada’s copyright reform bill, has entered an important stage in Parliament in the capital city of Ottawa. Earlier this month, it got past a second hearing and yesterday (Nov. 18) a Committee of the Whole was formed, which will now debate the bill clause-by-clause.
The Committee has five Conservatives, three Liberals, two Bloc Quebecois, one NDP (five conservatives and six opposition members in total), representing all the political parties, plus a chairperson appointed by the Speaker of the House.
“The theory is that those 11 men and women who are either specialists or have interest or an understanding, or who are going to becoming specialists [in copyright], will really tackle the meat of the bill,” says Toronto’s Graham Henderson, president of the Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA).
“They will have hearings; those hearings will take place over the next few weeks and coming out of the hearings, that group of people will entertain amendments, will vote on amendments, and a changed and amended bill will come out the other end of that process.”
While there is some friction within the music industry over certain points and exceptions, the main issues in the consumer-friendly Bill C-32 are the proposed private copying levy and the elimination of the broadcast mechanical tariff. Two areas not in contention are 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 industry is looking for several technical amendments to the wording of the Bill to bring certain of the provisions – for example, overly broad exceptions – in line with stated government policy,” says Henderson.
Copyright modernization bills got past the first hearing in 2008 with the Conservative government and in 2006 with the Liberals, but never past the second hearing.
Bill C-32 was written by Industry Canada, headed by Minister Tony Clement, in cooperation with the Department of Canadian Heritage (headed by Minister James Moore) and in consultation with the Canadian public, says Henderson.
“Last summer , the Government did an online and in-person consultation with Canadian people on the subject of this bill,” says Henderson. “It was the first time they had ever done anything online or digital and they had town halls and round tables from coast to coast.”
The resulting bill was introduced in the House on June 2. “That was the starting bell,” says Henderson.
The second hearing determined if Bill C-32 would be given time in the House and when. On Nov. 2, Minister Clement presented the bill; debates ensued for more than a day and a vote was taken on Nov. 5.
“The moment that vote took place, the parliamentarians were saying, ‘We’re going to refer the bill; it’s now going to go to a committee,'” says Henderson, who was watching the public debate broadcast on C-PAC.
With the Committee of the Whole now assembled, Henderson is hopeful there will be an amendment to the antiquated Copyright Act by March 2011.
“It’s never come this far; we’ve never got past first reading. So this is a huge step for us,” says Henderson. “Also, the fact that the Committee is being picked so quickly is a good sign; it shows that everybody in the Houses of Parliament is focused on this, concerned about this. There’s a general feeling up in Ottawa on all sides that we just have to get on with this. Sitting around and doing nothing is just not an option.”