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Canadian Copyright: A Citizen’s Guide

by Laura Murray, Sam Trosow

Canadian Copyright is a timely but risky book. Its arrival falls smack between the Liberals’ failed attempt to revamp Canadian copyright law and the rumblings of an imminent Conservative foray into the same territory. If this book finds the right audience, it could serve as a progressive intervention into Canadian copyright policymaking. If it doesn’t, it will require a revised edition very quickly indeed.

The result of extensive consultations and interviews with numerous legal, cultural, and scholarly authorities, this book carefully balances history and tradition with advocacy for reform. Though the authors have strong opinions on some controversial subjects (such as the legality of downloading in Canada), they politely constrain them to the Practice and Policy sections at the end of the book – an approach that would be unthinkable for their U.S. counterparts on either the maximalist or minimalist side of the copyright debate.

One major strength of the book is the facility with which it describes the significant differences between Canadian and U.S. copyright traditions (and, ultimately, our respective cultures). While Canada’s copyright law developed under economic influence from the U.S., it is actually a mix of British and French approaches. As a result, Canadian copyright law includes concepts such as moral rights, which even the staunchest advocates of users’ rights in the U.S. tend to decry.

Another strength of this book is that it focuses on areas that have been given short shrift in previous works on Canadian copyright: users’ rights (an area of increasing importance, since most public discourse about copyright focuses on what we can’t do rather than what we can); aboriginal approaches to intellectual property rights (which emphasize the protection of the honour of clans, cultures, and nations over the rights of individual creators); digital rights management (and its spectacular failure to actually protect content); and public licensing systems (such as the Creative Commons licenses). Some of these subjects are very old, and some very new, but understanding all of them is essential for anyone hoping to navigate the shoals of contemporary culture unscathed.

The book does have some shortcomings, but they are primarily organizational. Some terms, such as “Creative Commons,” appear several times before they’re defined. Still, the audience for this book should include all Canadians, not just communications nerds, policy wonks, and working artists. Otherwise, as I’ve remarked elsewhere, we’ll get the culture that we deserve rather than the culture that we want.