Meera Nair

sleep no more

In Posts on June 21, 2012 at 5:17 pm

Bill C11 passed third reading on Monday and Senate approval is underway. Michael Geist took the sting out of the loss on the issue of digital locks by reminding us how far Canada has come in terms of civic engagement with copyright. A fitting backdrop is Geist’s 2006 Hart House Lecture, Our Own Creative Land – Cultural Monopoly & The Trouble With Copyright. In that lecture, Geist pointed to the rising interest in copyright. “It is a story about how technology and the Internet are providing new opportunities for creativity, public participation, and individual expression.” Events made all the more exciting, given the stark contrast to past copyright policy-making which took place, as Geist wrote, “while Canadians slept.”

In his post of June 18 Geist lays out in detail how much better our Copyright Act is because of the widespread engagement by Canadians from all walks of life. Creators, consumers, educators, students, librarians, industry members …, all provided thoughtful commentary from the opening days of the 2009 public consultation through to the closing days of C11. While Geist could not have known it then, C11 lives up to his 2006 pronouncement that “Canadian policy makers must rethink policies grounded in ‘the way it was’ and instead chart a new vision in the broader public interest.” Canadians awoke and there is reason to be confident that sleep is a thing of the past. This is comforting, as our newly-modernized Copyright Act seems already poised for change.

It came as no surprise that within two days of third reading, Canada received its much desired invitation to the Trans Pacific Partnership. Writing for the Globe and Mail, Steven Chase and Bill Curry identified what had been a principal impediment to the invitation:

Mr. Harper has repeatedly touted joining the TPP as a key element of his government’s push to expand trade with fast-growing Asia but has faced difficulty persuading the Americans that Canada can be considered a major defender of digital intellectual property such as movies, TV shows and music.

Yet the invitation is less an offer of partnership, and more a directive issued to a branch-plant subsidiary. Writing for the Toronto Star, Thomas Walkom wryly observed that Canada’s begging has worked: “This week, Pacific Partnership members agreed to let Canada and Mexico join — on the understanding that they would have to abide by whatever the original nine had already decided (all of which is secret).”

Walkom also describes how the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement serves as a means to circumvent involvement in matters of trade by the World Trade Organization. Historically, the size of that world body meant a more level trading playing field – a levelling that did not always serve American interests. Canada’s eagerness to join TPP must come with some costs; he asks: “What did Canada give up to get inside this particular door?”

Some months ago Geist provided his submission to the TPP consultation process; available from his post of June 19. A prospect I found quite disturbing was the longer copyright term demanded by TPP; my submission is here. Unfortunately, the government has not yet provided the results of that consultation so the wider story of Canadian opinion remains unknown.

But sleep reigns no more.

 Afterword

This entry was to close with some poetry on the theme of sleep.  I had a few poets in mind but let Google weigh in on the selection. And that led to Sleep by Eric Whitacre – a story of musical creativity denied widespread enjoyment because of a copyright term. The bittersweet ending is a beautiful new work and a vow to shun a classic even when it becomes public domain material in 2038.

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