Home > cdnpoli, CDNTech, Copryight, Politics > Conservatives Propose to “Amend” Fair Dealing Not Replace It

Conservatives Propose to “Amend” Fair Dealing Not Replace It

Over the weekend, I’ve had some time to look at the fine print of the “leaked” Conservative Cabinet document of the Conservatives plans to introduce new copyright laws to allow them to legally use news content for political advertising.  Some have strongly suggested that these new plans will allow more privileges to politicians than the public over fair use laws and free speech.  A closer examination of the documents reveal the Conservatives plan to amend (or add to) the copyright act, not replace the fair dealing clauses that apply to the public.  From the very last sentence in the Cabinet proposal on the fair dealing amendment proposal:

“If supported, the amendment would be incorporated into the budget implementation act and enter into force upon Royal Assent”

In the House of Commons last week, Heritage Minister Shelly Glover stated:

“We believe that (using news clips for advertising) has always been protected under the fair dealing provision of the law and if greater certainty is necessary, we will provide it.”

The reasoning for this amendment by the Conservatives to clarify the law, comes as the party is under threat from the big media companies that they would not comply with existing fair dealing legislation that applies to the public, and politicians.

The Conservatives could have done a better job communicating this to the public.  They could have stated the amendment was to the copyright act, not the budget implementation bill.  However Cabinet documents linked to above were leaked internal cabinet documents.  I don’t think they were expecting these to become public, and most likely part of a conversation around how to deal with a threat from the media companies on not complying with fair use, which is a much bigger threat to civil liberties and free speech in this country ahead of an election, than communication missteps from the Conservative Cabinet on this.

Internal CBC documents from the middle of March this year also suggest that the media consortium very well knew how fair dealing worked in this case:

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Yet the consortium went to air with the notion that the Conservatives were “stealing” (implicating an illegal act) news content, when they knew under law that wasn’t the case.  The public was purposely mislead on the law by the media, using public discourse around attack ads as cover.  That’s a much more serious issue that needs to be addressed ahead of an election where the electorate will be very cautious around what the law is in the next election due to the robocalls scandal.  If we don’t have media acting independent of bias when it comes to reporting on the law in the next election, it will not be a free or fair vote, which is one of the reasons why I’m complaining about the way this has been reported to the public.  I say this as someone who often criticizes policies on this blog as it relates to copyright and civil liberties, and with no political bias.

Ariel Katz Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law, University of Toronto, who also holds the Innovation Chair in Electronic Commerce, produced an excellent blog this morning on how the media consortium might also be infringing on the competition act:

The Government’s proposal—a proposal that seems to be unnecessary and misguided at once—might have been prompted by an agreement between the major electronic media organizations not to broadcast political ads that contain audio or video content appearing to come from news services owned by CBC/Radio Canada, CTV/Bellmedia, Global/Shaw, or City/Rogers. If what those documents appear to reveal is true, then the document that those documents reveal might be an illegal one, contrary to section 45 of the Competition Act. Thus, a story that broke as a minor (albeit important) news item about copyright reform, may turn out to be a much bigger story about possible violation of the Competition Act by Canada’s major media outlets.

Katz also went on to state (emphasis added):

Attack ads may be distasteful, or even according to some views harmful to the political process, but they are not illegal. Likewise, using excerpts of content from their own programs may be annoying for some broadcasters, but as even some of the broadcasters’ legal advisers agree, the Copyright Act does not prohibit that. If the broadcasters aren’t happy with this state of the law it is open to them to convince Parliament to change the law (within the bounds permissible for such limitation on freedom of expression that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms would permit). Or, better still, they can fight the speech that they don’t like with their own better speech; after all, unlike most Canadian, they have unfettered access to the media—they are the media. What they cannot and should not do is enter into agreements that allows them, by virtue of their control of the most important media outlets, bypass the political process, impose their own wishes, and make their own wishes effectively the law of the land.

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  1. October 18, 2014 at 9:49 AM

    You’re premise is wrong, Jason.

    This amendment doesn’t deal with “fair use”. If it were to deal with “fair use”, it wouldn’t be limited to a single class – politicians. If the scope had been broader, then I think your arguments would hold some weight.

    • October 19, 2014 at 4:44 PM

      No not necessary. Broadcasters put the Conservatives in a very interesting position. Takes years to resolve in the courts/regulators. Nothing the Conservatives could do ahead of an election to resolve so they tried the legislative route. I don’t think the Conservatives had in mind to only extend “fair use” to politicians. Following the logic I don’t think the argument Conservatives did this intentionally and for politicians holds weight either.

      See my questions over twitter with former head of legal services of Election Canada James Sprague and his answers to them: https://twitter.com/JamesLHSprague/status/522121965327626241 :

      That should bring some clarity as to what political position the broadcasters put the Conservatives in, and the more oblique unintended consequences of legislating in “clarity” under law as it pertains to a private matter between the Conservative party and the Broadcasters.

  1. October 14, 2014 at 8:43 AM
  2. February 19, 2016 at 9:30 AM

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