Are Canadians copyright pirates?

There have been a number of stories recently in which Canada is accused of being a haven for copyright pirates, a scofflaw, a den of iniquity, etc. etc. — including the most recent story out of Washington, which describes how the International Intellectual Property Alliance wants the U.S. government to add Canada to a list of intellectual property villains.

Pirate.jpgA previous story talked about how movie studios are thinking about delaying the release of movies in Canada because of all the rampant “camcordering” or illicit copying of movies in theatres, with Canada described as the source of “nearly 50 per cent” of the world’s camcorded movies. Sounds pretty bad, right? But as copyright expert and University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist described on his blog recently, there are some holes in that portrayal. One of the first is the 50 per cent number. Not only is there no way of verifying that figure, but the International Intellectual Property Alliance says Canada is only responsible for about 23 per cent of camcorder copies. That still sounds like a lot, right? Except that only about 179 out of the 1,400 movies released in 2006 was camcorded, according to the Motion Picture Association of America.

One of the most recent studies of movie piracy, Dr. Geist notes, found that the vast majority of illegally copied movies — more than 75 per cent — come from review copies or early releases that are sent to movie industry insiders. And an analysis of the way that movie copying tends to work shows that illegal camcorder copies have an extremely short shelf life, and are only popular until the DVD version of a movie is released (which is happening more and more quickly after the theatrical release), at which point pirates copy those instead. No one seems to be saying that Canada is a haven for that, although obviously we have our own share of illegal DVD sellers.

So the bottom line is that Canada appears to be one of the sources for a form of movie piracy that accounts for a relatively small proportion of the overall problem in the industry. But the stories all say that Canada doesn’t even care about that, don’t they? Industry sources say that our copyright laws aren’t strong enough and so criminals see our country as the perfect place to engage in that business. But as the Justice Minister and others have pointed out, copying movies is already a crime in Canada, under existing copyright legislation. It’s true that in order to make such a case stick, the authorities have to prove that it was copied for illegal distribution, but that seems like a reasonable requirement, and such cases are prosecuted frequently.

So what Canada is accused of doing, essentially, is not passing specific laws that the U.S. motion picture industry wants it to, to make any form of copying illegal and easier to prosecute. They’d probably like it if we didn’t have friends over to watch our DVDs too, but luckily that is still legal.

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