Canada tries again to update copyright legislation

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada will reintroduce copyright legislation on Thursday as it grapples with the realities of the Internet age and tries to balance the demands of consumers with concerns from the movie industry.

The legislation, first introduced ahead of the federal election in May, is designed to cope with things like movie piracy, which the Canadian Motion Picture Distributors Association put at more than C$1.8 billion ($1.7 billion) in 2009-10, or the equivalent of 12,600 full-time jobs.

“In the absence of clear and modern copyright rules, digital piracy caused enormous damage to the creative industries, Canadian jobs and the entire economy,” the association said in parliamentary testimony earlier this year.

The legislation would let Canadians copy legally acquired music and movies to their iPods and computers but it would bar most attempts to get around digital locks, which limit access to books, movies, music, video games and electronic devices.

In a concession to consumers, the bill would allow them to circumvent a digital lock on their smart phones to let them switch wireless service providers, if their contract allows that.

Introducing the legislation the first time, the Conservative government found it hard to please both the consumers and educators who want lax rules on copying film, books and music, and the movie industry and the U.S. government which both want tighter rules.

In 2009, with the apparent acquiescence of Ottawa, Washington placed Canada on its “priority watch list” of countries with the worst records of preventing copyright theft.

A Wikileaks cable revealed that the office of then industry minister Tony Clement told a U.S. diplomat that being put on the priority watch list might help the government get copyright legislation through.

By introducing the bill in the same form as before the federal election, the government plans to avoid Parliament calling up groups that have already testified about the legislation.

“That suggests things could move very quickly with a few sessions and a march to passing the bill before the end of 2011,” said Michael Geist, copyright expert at the University of Ottawa.

The bill would cut the penalties that companies could seek for most private infringement of copyrights. Statutory damages would be reduced to a one-time payment of between C$100 and C$5,000, compared with the maximum current punishment of C$20,000 for a single offense.

Copyright owners would also have stronger legal tools to go after online pirate sites. Creators of content would have the right to prevent someone else from posting their work online without permission.

$1=$1.03 Canadian