ZeroPaid Interviews Michael Geist

ZeroPaid Interviews Michael Geist

One of the many things we are tracking here at ZeroPaid is the developments of the Canadian copyright reform legislation. So, we decided to talk to Michael Geist, one of the leading experts of copyright, the internet and digital rights in Canada.

If you’ve looked at things like Canadian copyright reform, you’ve very likely heard of Michael Geist. He’s a very well known law professor from the University of Ottawa and posts regularly to his blog at For me, his blog is one of the sites I read on a regular basis to keep me informed of some of the things that are happening in Canada.

Since Canadian copyright reform is one of a number of topics making headlines, we felt it was time to interview Geist on a variety of topics related to copyright. So, without further delay, the interview with a man that really needs no introduction:

ZeroPaid (ZP): We’ve both been watching Candian copyright reform for quite some time now. One of the things I’ve noticed was that ever since the incident with Sam Bulte and the “pro-user zealot” comment was that it seemed to set up some sort of battle line that pitted Canadians against the government which was followed through in successive governments and successive copyright reform bills that was very one-sided in favor of major corporate interests. Based on what you’ve seen, would you say that this may have made Canadians cynical about the Canadian government and copyright reform?

Michael Geist (MG): I think the situation is a bit more nuanced than the question implies. On the issue of digital locks, the answer is yes. I think many focused on digital locks as their key concern and have been left very frustrated by the government’s unwillingness to even consider modest reforms to its approach. Having written multiple times to their MPs, they are left somewhat cynical with the process. However, the Canadian copyright reform proposals have improved over time, due largely to those same voices. Digital locks may have been lost, but with the expansion of fair dealing, notice-and-notice, UGC, new consumer exceptions, and statutory damages reforms, the bills have changed and they aren’t totally one-sided.

ZP: With all the iterations of copyright reform up to this point, do you have any general comments on what sort of trends you’ve noticed in the legislative process? Do you think that the fact that Canada had so many minority governments in a row may have altered the course in copyright reform?

MG: See above. I think we’ve seen digital locks remain unchanged due to US pressure, notice-and-notice unchanged due to the influence of telcos, and many other provisions shift due to the increasing interest and engagement of the public on copyright.

ZP: One of the trends I’ve noticed in your commentary in the more recent iterations of copyright reform was the comment that the bills are “flawed, but fixable”. Would you say there are some elements in the legislation that has really been stuck in neutral and have there been things that have been fixed more recently?

MG: The digital lock rules were the big flaw and they were not changed. The fact that the government stuck with some of the positive elements of the bill (noted above) and rejected calls for website blocking or increased subscriber information disclosures is a welcome development.

ZP: There are Canadians that have reasons to be up in arms over the most recent version of copyright reform bill. Yet, I’ve been looking around the world and seen some pretty dramatic trends. There’s been cases where ISPs are ordered to censor websites. There’s been three strikes laws being put in place in countries like France and the UK. There’s also the cases of Jammy Thomas and Joel Tenenbaum getting fined hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars for the simple act of sharing a handful of songs. Compared to some of the things happening around the world right now, are Canadians getting a good deal with the current version of copyright even though there are flaws in it?

MG: Again, it’s nuanced. Other countries have done much better on digital locks. On many other issues, the Canadian bill is better than what is found elsewhere.

ZP: Some people might be wondering, Canada has spent about 7 years trying to pass a main copyright reform bill. Do you think that this is it, that chances are very good and this is the one that will get passed?

MG: Absolutely. It will be passed by the summer.

ZP: Over the years, there’s been quite a rise in international closed-door agreements such as ACTA and TPP that are currently in negotiations. Looking at the current copyright reform bill, are there provisions that make it easy to just implement these newer international agreements or are those provisions more directed at previous agreements like WIPO? If the agreements can’t be implemented through the bill, how would ACTA or TPP be implemented into Canadian law (what’s the general process for something like this)? How likely is Canada going to be implementing ACTA considering the fact that it seems likely to not be ratified in Europe? Also, Canada isn’t really involved in the main negotiation process of TPP. If Canada is asked to implement provisions of the TPP, would it be different then, say, ACTA given Canada’s status in the agreement? Finally, what can Canadians do if/when Canada is asked to implement agreements such as this if they object to them?

MG: Lots of questions here. I do not think C-11 would allow Canada to ratify ACTA right now as there would need to be additional legislative changes. There is a bit of copyright fatigue right now, so I don’t think another bill is imminent. That said, the current Industry Committee hearings on IP may be intended to lay the groundwork for future reforms. Moreover, with the opposition in Europe, Switzerland, and elsewhere, ACTA may ultimately be seen as a failed treaty exercise.

As for TPP, it’s harder to say. First, we’re not even part of the negotiations and the US doesn’t want us in. Second, the IP chapter is still under negotiation.

One treaty you haven’t mentioned with a more immediate impact is CETA. Those negotiations may conclude this year and could have significant IP implications.

ZeroPaid would like to thank Michael Geist for taking the time out of his busy schedule to talk to us. We will certainly be looking more closely at CETA in the future.

If you have a recommendation on who to interview next, feel free to suggest it in the comment section below or through the usual methods of contacting me.

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