06/14/2012 05:27 EDT | Updated 08/14/2012 05:12 EDT

The Secret Meetings That Locked Down Canadian Copyright


Over the past few years, the Motion Picture Association - Canada, the Canadian arm of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), has recorded nearly 100 meetings with government ministers, MPs, and senior officials. While their lobbying effort will not come as a surprise, last October there were several meetings that fell outside the norm. On October 18, 2011, MPA-Canada reports meeting with Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore, Foreign Minister John Baird, and Industry Canada Senior Associate Deputy Minister Simon Kennedy, all on the same day. These meetings occured less than three weeks after the introduction of Bill C-11 and the decision to sign the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), and only eight days before SOPA was launched in the U.S.

To get a sense of how rare these meetings were, this is the only registered meeting John Baird has had on intellectual property since Bill C-11 was introduced and ACTA was signed by Canada. Similarly, since the introduction of Bill C-11, James Moore has only two intellectual property meetings listed -- this one with MPA-Canada and one in March 2012 with the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (in fact, Moore had only three meetings on intellectual property in all of 2011. Those meetings were with MPA-Canada, the Canadian Recording Industry Association, and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce). Even the Simon Kennedy meeting was a rarity as he has had multiple meetings with pharmaceutical companies, but only two (MPA-Canada and the Canadian Council of Chief Executives) that appear to have included copyright.

Given how unusual it is for a single lobby group to gain access to two of Canada's leading cabinet ministers and a senior department official on the same day, it raises the question of how they did it.

The answer does not come from the official Communication Report Summaries, which only list MPA-Canada Executive Director Wendy Noss. Rather, it comes from documents I recently obtained under the Access to Information Act that reveal the meeting was actually led by the head of the MPAA, former U.S. Senator Christopher Dodd (the fact that the law does not require this to be disclosed highlights a major shortcoming in the Lobbying Act).

On September 20, 2011, MPA-Canada wrote to Industry Minister Christian Paradis (and presumably to Baird and Moore) to request meetings with Dodd. Dodd was not permitted to directly lobby U.S. politicians due to a cooling off period, but faced no such restriction in Canada.

The briefing note prepared for the meeting provides the strong sense that the government was already ready to cave on issues such as toughening the Bill C-11 enabler provision, which was characterized as a technical amendment. Anticipating MPAA demands for new rules for Internet providers, the note argues that C-11 strikes the right balance. Although the full content of the meeting is not known, given the discussion surrounding ACTA and SOPA/PIPA at the time, it seems likely that Dodd used the unparalleled access to push for SOPA-style amendments within Bill C-11, major changes to the enabler provision and ISP liability, and quick implementation of ACTA (the meeting with Baird in particular was presumably focused on ACTA, CETA, and the TPP).

The Canadian government's decision to reject the near-universal criticism of the C-11 digital lock approach has long been linked to pressure from the U.S. government and U.S. lobby groups. With the MPAA secretly bringing Dodd to Ottawa to lobby some of Canada's highest ranking politicians within weeks of the introduction of the bill, the full scale of the lobbying pressure becomes increasingly apparent.

Ministers were willing to meet with the top U.S. copyright lobby group, but not with Canadian creator, consumer, or education groups who offered a much different perspective on legislative reform.