Copyright Changes Afoot?

The recent flurry of stories about Canada’s copyright laxity (see below) suggests that the “rights holder” community is softening up the Canadian public for a strong dose of copyright medicine. Want to see first-run movies at your local theatre just like everyone else in North America? Better support some tough new copyright (and criminal code) measures friend.

There are indeed rumours that the Conservatives may introduce legislation before summer that would bring Canada in compliance, and then some, with its world intellectual property organization (WIPO) commitments from way back in ’96.

If these rumours have any substance, we’re probably looking at some copycat of the the U.S. digital millennium copyright act (DMCA) which among other things made Internet providers liable for illegal distribution of copyrighted material (something that goes above-and-beyond the WIPO call of duty). Under the DMCA’s “notice-and-takedown” provision — most recently on display with Viacom demanding that Google removing offending videos from YouTube — providers must immediately take down any offending material upon notification to that effect from content creators.

The last time the Canadian federal government tried to get right with WIPO was with Bill C-60 in 2004. It died on the order papers because of the election later that year. Bill C-60 has been described by some in the legal community as “moderate” because the Liberals resisted the temptation of adopting DMCA-style “notice-and-takedown” measures in favor of a “notice-and-notice” mechanism whereby Internet providers, upon being notified by an aggrieved copyright holder, need only in turn notify their customers of the fact that there’s potentially illegal content attributable to their name.

There was a lot more to Bill C-60, some of it less friendly to those who are decidedly skeptical about the alleged need for stringent copyright protection to get the “incentives right” in the digital era. Here I’m thinking especially of the WIPO-inspired anti-circumvention provisions, regressive library and educational provisions and the egregious photographers rights provisions (wedding photos would no longer belong to the client, i.e., the married couple). Indeed, the entire copyright issue raises some very interesting (economic and philosophical) questions for the left about how much it’s willing to see the commons carved up by property rights, questions that I’ll return to in a later post.


Hollywood puts squeeze on Canada – News – Hollywood puts squeeze on Canada

Told to crack down on bootlegging or lose film premieres, face delay of blockbusters

January 30, 2007


MONTREAL–When police swooped down on a ring of bootleggers in mid-December in Montreal’s working-class Rosemont neighbourhood, they made an unexpected discovery.

In addition to cases of contraband liquor and illegal cigarettes, investigators found 9,000 counterfeit DVDs. Both law enforcement and film industry officials say the illegal discs were evidence of a growing trend: Canada is becoming a world leader in pirated movies.

The movie industry has had enough, and has decided to pressure Canada’s cinemas by threatening to delay film premieres and the distribution of first-run blockbusters.

In turn, the association representing the country’s cinema owners is stepping up its lobbying efforts to force the federal government into cracking down on film bootlegging by changing the Criminal Code.

Last week, Canada’s movie theatre owners sent a letter to Justice Minister Rob Nicholson seeking an amendment to the code that would make it a crime to record a movie in a theatre – the act of filming is not allowed, but it’s not currently a criminal offence.

“There seems to be a lack of understanding as to the severity of the situation. … We think (Nicholson) has to get up to speed on this quickly,” said Ellis Jacob, president and CEO of Cineplex Entertainment, the country’s largest movie theatre chain.

Jacob was also speaking as a member of the Canadian Motion Picture Theatre Associations, which first raised the piracy problem in 2004.

“This is something that could have a lot of effects. The biggest loss is probably to the consumer. … If people don’t come to the movies it hurts our bottom line,” said Jacob, adding that “this could eventually destroy the industry in this country.”

A spokesperson for Nicholson, who was appointed minister this month, declined to comment.

Cineplex recently received a letter from 20th Century Fox, which threatened to delay the release of films in its 130 Canadian theatres.

“This isn’t a Cineplex versus Fox issue, this is an industry-wide concern that affects everybody,” said Jacob, adding that other movie studios have expressed similar sentiments.

Hollywood estimates pirating is a multibillion-dollar industry, and the studios are serious about stamping it out. Last summer, Fox forced organizers of the Maui Film Festival to cancel an outdoor showing of the Oscar-nominated Little Miss Sunshine and move it indoors because of pirating concerns.

An enforcement expert at the Canadian Motion Picture Distributors Association (CMPDA) estimated that as much as 40 per cent of pirated DVDs originate from Canada, and the bulk of those were made in Montreal.

“It’s a persistent problem in Montreal. … The level of organization is such that these movies are distributed very rapidly using the Internet, whether it’s in the U.S., Europe or Asia,” said Serge Corriveau, Montreal-based head of investigations for the Canadian distributors group.

The DVDs found in Montreal last Dec. 19 – four days earlier RCMP in Gatineau seized another 1,500 counterfeit DVDs – had been “ripped” from recently released movies that are available in video rental stores.

While “ripped” DVDs are a problem, there’s a far bigger concern over “camming,” where people use sophisticated handheld cameras to surreptitiously record films upon their cinematic release.

And U.S. law enforcement and movie industry officials have fingered Montreal as an international hub for “cammers.”

The RCMP is currently in the midst of a large-scale investigation in Montreal, and while the force won’t discuss the details of the case, detectives say they are working with the distributors group and others to track down the bootleggers.

“It’s a complicated area, but there are ongoing investigations. This has been going on for a couple of years. Private industry has noticed these films are being distributed worldwide; we’re working with them to solve the problem,” said Const. William McKay of the Montreal RCMP’s federal enforcement unit.

Corriveau said there have been instances of movies being pirated in Ottawa, Vancouver and other Canadian cities, but “watermarks” and time-code signatures imprinted on each copy of a given movie indicate the problem is worst in Montreal.

“Movies are released in both languages here, which might be a factor because it gives the pirates the possibility of selling to the European market right away,” he said.

The recordings are quickly shipped through the Internet to bootleggers. In one recent case, a film had its premiere at a weekday matinée in Montreal and illegal copies were selling on New York streets by supper.

The bootleggers are becoming more inventive, looking farther afield and getting accomplices. Last year, a movie theatre employee in Roberval, a town in the remote Lac St. Jean region, was arrested and charged with helping someone enter a film so it could be copied. It was thought to be the first case of its kind.

Last November, police arrested 15 people after raids on three shopping malls around Toronto netted 200,000 DVDs worth about $4 million.

Jacob said that theatre owners have gone to great lengths in their attempts to thwart the pirates, but the law simply doesn’t have enough teeth.


One comment

  • Thanks, Arun for raising some important questions about our copyright regime.

    I am not weeping any tears for the movie industry. Quite the opposite — I am concerned that a new copyright act will only reinforce the pattern of growing inequality we have seen in recent decades.

    There are some basic questions about the utility of copyright that need to be asked. For instance, whether copyright actually works in line with standard economic theory that it creates an incentive to make movies? I’m skeptical of arguments that artists would stop making art if there was no copyright (and every work of art builds on what has come before it). For the most part, I think this is being driven by large corporations seeking to further protect their exclusive rights.

    Another question is whether one can assume that everyone who watches a movie by downloading it would actually pay full fare at a theatre if they could not download it. For example, someone willing to watch a crappy version of Borat taken on someone’s cell phone is highly unlikely to pay $12 to see it.

    And while file sharing probably diminishes the revenues earned by rights holders somewhat, should we care when the most downloaded movies are also the ones making staggering sums of money? No one is file sharing the works of small, marginal artists.

    All of that said, I think the music industry provides a useful basis of comparison. Most artists make most of their money by playing live. Even artists that allow taping and distribution of their live shows (the prototype is the Grateful Dead but lots of other bands do this, too) still make excellent money touring. In this world, a produced CD, distributed by file sharing, can actually increase their revenues if it leads more people to go see the band live.

    So I might be willing to allow a crackdown on pirating at the movie theatre, as an exclusive first run, while allowing more of a free-for-all when it comes to digital versions. There will always be super-fans that want the slick DVD, and if the studios add extra print and digital content, they can be guaranteed of solid revenues from this format.

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