Thoughts on C-32 committee members from the Liberal Party of Canada.

Of the 12 members of the C-32 committee, three of them were from the Liberal party of Canada. The primary three were Pablo Rodriguez (Honoré-Mercier), Marc Garneau (Westmount—Ville-Marie), and Hon. Dan McTeague ( Pickering—Scarborough East). Filling in when one of these three members couldn’t attend was Francis Scarpaleggia (Lac-Saint-Louis), Hon. John McCallum (Markham—Unionville), Scott Simms (Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor) and Yasmin Ratansi (Don Valley East).

Mark Garneau was the Liberal Industry Critic, and took the lead for the party in committee. He has a technical background as can be expected of an astronaut. His questions in committee followed pretty much the same flavour as you can see in the answers he gave on Monday in a live tex/online Q&A session he did (See: lpc.ca/digital).

He has the required technical background, but appears to not have been following the Copyright debate for very long. He expressed surprise in the house when the bill was tabled that this was the area of policy he had the most meetings about.

He expressed more than once the desire to put some evidence behind the policy. One of the last meetings included some phone and cable companies discussing the Notice-and-Notice regime. Mr. Garneau kept asking whether notice and notice is effective. In the digital policy chat on Monday the same issue came up, which is why I think it is worth highlighting. In response to Michael Geist, Marc Garneau said:

Michael
Not completely satisfied with answers (I am an engineer). At this point we are with N&N

The problem with this line of questioning is that he never defined what he meant by “effective”, or clarified his desire for evidence on notice-and-notice where little evidence existed for most of the other policies expressed within the bill (IE: that infringement is as serious a problem as claimed by some witnesses, needing some of the drastic measures proposed such as non-owner digital locks).

I think it is dangerous to think of ISP liability as an enforcement mechanism, which Mr. Garneau appeared to be suggesting. ISPs should never be put in a situation to judge whether a specific activity infringes copyright of not. The complexity of copyright is such that lawyers often debate and not agree on whether an activity is an infringement of copyright, and even if they agree there is an infringement they disagree on which and whose rights have been infringed.

The effectiveness of a notice-and-notice regime should be measured by whether it reduces infringing activity without anyone needing to go to court, something that it is clearly doing -- and something that wouldn’t need an expensive study to determine.

While this is one narrow example, it is a general feeling I received when listening to Mr. Garneau’s questions. I feel he was on the right track, and was a great participant in the committee, but needed additional policy support. He appeared to be missing some of the necessary background and history on the large number of policy questions being discussed within the omnibus Bill C-32.

Pablo Rodriguez was the Liberal Heritage Critic, and was the MP I met in person most recently before the committee was started. My mood about him can be summarized by saying that when I was listening to a translation of him speaking in French, I often mistook him for one of the Bloc MPs. His questions might be consistent with discussions about a new Heritage funding program to offer subsidies to creators, but not at all consistent with the very different type of conversation that has to happen around Copyright.

I was not very impressed with his understanding of the complexities of Copyright. He seemed to be from that camp that naively believes that “if some copyright is good, more is better”. His questions often suggested he believed that more copyright would bring more revenue to creators, which is simply not the case.

Hon. Dan McTeague was the Liberal critic for Treasury Board, Consumer Affairs and Consular Affairs. Anyone who looks in the blog topic for his riding will notice that our community has been writing about him for some time, as he has emerged as a spokesperson for the major label recording industry. You can see the talking points he expresses in a posting to his own site titled: A Rebuttal to Michael Geist on the Issue of Copyright Infringement In Canada Today. Similar talking points were raised as a point of order within the committee itself.

There are multiple lawsuits being filed between multiple parties, and Mr. Geist was discussing different cases than Mr. McTeague seemed to be. Given Mr McTeagues dislike for Mr. Geist's views, I wonder what he thought about having Mr. Garneau host a forum during the election that specifically included Geist as a featured questioner.

I disagree with Mr. McTeague’s premise which is that the recording industry is the victim in all these scenarios, and that stronger laws targeting third parties are mandatory to solve the problems in the music (and in theory all other copyright dependent industries).

How various people evaluate the current state of our copyright law seems to depend on who you feel should be the target of infringement cases. Should it be individuals infringing copyright, intermediaries like ISPs, multi-purpose technology that can be abused by third parties to infringe copyright, or services that appear to be authorizing and encouraging infringement. For individuals and those authorizing, I believe existing law is sufficient, and alleged deficiencies have not been confirmed in court. Multi-purpose third party products and services shouldn’t be liable.

The recording industry is a bit of an outlier amongst the copyright dependent sectors. In the music industry there are three copyright holding groups: composers, performers, and makers of sound recordings (AKA: record labels). The hottest debates within the music industry aren’t about infringement, but about the fairness of the formulas used to calculate how much money each of these rights-holders should receive. In the legacy mechanical record/tape/CD market it was the record label that extracted the lions share of the revenue, while in situations such as commercial radio the formulas far better recognize the interests of composers and performers. The recording industry has been lobbying for years to ensure that digital distribution -- which is technologically closer to radio -- is treated as if it were similar to mechanical sales. This way the record labels are able to extract far more than their fair share out of any revenue received by the music industry. I believe if independent studies were done it would be verified that magnitudes more money is extracted unfairly by the record labels from the music industry than is lost due to infringement.

Put in another way, favoring the policy put forward by the major labels is harmful to the interests of the musicians who are the primary creators in the music industry. Any solution to the problems in the music industry must start from recognizing that giving more power to the labels will only make problems worse. This is not only true in music, but also in most other copyright impacted sectors that are dealing with major anti-competitive problems where the major software vendors, record labels, broadcasters, etc are trying to control these markets in ways that are harmful to the majority of creators in those markets.

It is possible that Mr. McTeague has just been hanging around with the wrong crowd :-)

He expressed interest in meeting me one-on-one once he figured out who I was from attending each of the meetings. It turns out he read some of what I had written on Usage Based Billing, a policy area where he had been siding with independent ISPs, innovators and consumers over the interests of the government granted monopolistic phone and cable companies. His views expressed at Industry committee when it came to the phone and cable companies seemed in my mind inconsistent with his views on what was happening in the music industry.

In any case, he is a wild-card that should be watched very closely -- including who funds his campaigns and whose talking points he seems to be echoing in parliament and on his website.

Mr. McTeague was one of the more friendly of the MPs when it came to talking to people in breaks, including conversations he had with me. Even though I had met Mr. Rodriguez a few months earlier, there was no indication of interest to have friendly dialog. Mr. Garneau was generally unavailable for conversation.

Note: I offered some off-the-cuff comments earlier about these three individual MPs as part of a discussion with the Kitchener-Waterloo Linux Users Group.