Submissions on Copyright Board of Canada Reform

Posted on Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Recently, the Canadian government’s consultation on reform to the Copyright Board of Canada closed with a plan for reform expected to be unveiled in the coming months. Professor Michael Geist, member of the Centre, and the Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC), based at the Centre, provided their recommendations on the consultations regarding options for reform to the Copyright Board.

Professor Geist’s submission focuses on two areas: The overriding goals of public institutions to serve the public interest; and, related to that goal, the importance of public participation, the independence of Copyright Board member, as well as the regulation and transparency of copyright collective. According to Professor Geist, in order to properly address the function of the Copyright Board, it is imperative to consider the issues of the board’s administrative power, and the rules governing participation before the board: “the who and the how are inextricably linked and must be addressed concurrently.”

CIPPIC’s submissions recommend five reforms:

  1. adopt shorter timeframes;
  2. implement case management;
  3. implement a streamlined evidentiary process;
  4. extend tariff length to 5 years and eliminate tariff retroactivity; and
  5. allow for interveners in tariff proceedings.

According to CIPPIC, the adoption of the five reforms would ultimately “create greater certainty in the marketplace, improve the efficacy of decision-making, and make tariff proceedings quicker, less wasteful, and less costly.”

Useful sources:

  • Professor Geist's and CIPPIC’s submission letters are reproduced below.
  • See Professor Geist's blog post here.
  • See CIPPIC’s blog post here.
  • See the Governement of Canada's Consultation on Option for Reform for the Copyright Board of Canada here.



A Consultation on Options for Reform to the Copyright Board of Canada

I am a law professor at the University of Ottawa, where I hold the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law. I focus on the intersection between law and technology with an emphasis on digital policies, particularly copyright. I have appeared before many committees on copyright policy and edited several books on Canadian copyright policy.

This submission, which is based on several earlier public posts, columns, and an appearance before the Senate Standing Committee on Banking, Trade, and Commerce, focuses on two areas. First, it focuses on the overriding goal of any public institution or administrative tribunal: serving the public interest. In doing so, it points to three issues: public participation, the independence of the Copyright Board, and regulation and transparency of copyright collectives.

On this last issue, I emphasize the close linkage between the parties that appear or are affected by board decisions and reform of the board itself.  While the consultation document maintains that governance of collecting societies is beyond the scope of the consultation, I argue that solely addressing administrative powers wielded by the board without also assessing the rules pertaining to participation before the board will not adequately address concerns regarding the function of the board itself. In other words, the who and the how are inextricably linked and must be addressed concurrently.


As the consultation document rights notes, there is no shortage of criticism of the Board. Indeed, in an field that is often sharply divided, disenchantment with Board is sometimes the one thing people seem able to agree on. The criticism typically comes down to two issues: the substance of decisions and the way those decisions are rendered.  The government should pay little attention to substantive criticism of Board decisions. As former Chair of the Board Vancise noted last year, criticism of the substance of decisions usually comes down to “whose ox is being gored.” If you like decision, you’re comfortable with the Board.  If not, you think the Board is dysfunctional and in need of an overhaul.

I have been both critical and supportive of past Board decisions. I think the Board was initially very slow in acknowledging and implementing the copyright decisions delivered by the Supreme Court of Canada, particularly around fair dealing. That has changed, however, and the decisions are now more reflective of the court’s jurisprudence. Decisions are and will continue to be challenged, yet we should recognize that there is an established system to address appeals. Reform isn’t needed on the substance of decisions.

Contrast the substantive concerns with the administrative ones. How the Board reaches decisions, the costs involved, the timeliness of those decisions, and the ease of participation is very much a matter for review.

From my perspective, there is unquestionably a need to develop reasonable timelines for conducting hearings and issuing decisions. At times, there may be parties that are content to “rag the puck” without any urgency on Board processes. Given the importance of Board decisions beyond the immediate parties, timeliness is crucial. Providing the Board with the powers to maintain timeliness of procedures is important and the proposals in the consultation document should assist in addressing the timeliness of decisions.

The Board and the Public Interest

The consultation paper frames the role of the Board in the following manner:

In performing its functions, the Board facilitates the development and growth of copyright-based markets in Canada, resolves disputes between market actors and protects the public interest.

With respect, much like the Copyright Act itself, the primary goal of the Board is to further and protect the public interest.  It is in the public interest to facilitate the development and growth of copyright-based market and to resolve disputes between market actors.  However, the importance of the public interest should not be viewed as one of the board’s functions, but rather its primary one.  In prioritizing the public interest, there is scope to address the interests of all stakeholders, including the creators and users that regularly appear before the Board.  It also ensures that the Board’s work considers the broader implications of its decisions and processes, thereby facilitating wider participation and support for copyright administration.

In this sense, the Board is no different than any other tribunal, agency or government policy, who are all ultimately about serving the broader public interest. A narrowly defined vision that elevates the interests of certain stakeholders or policy priorities above the over-arching public interest goal runs the risk of lost public confidence in the process and missed opportunities to further Canada’s broader copyright policy goals.

This submission focuses on three mechanisms that would further the Board’s facilitation of the public interest: maximizing public participation, ensuring the independence of Board members, and fostering transparency of copyright collectives in the interests of both creators, users, and the broader public.

i.    Maximize Public Participation

Ensuring the board fulfills its mandate to serve the public interest, can be addressed in several ways but none is more important than opening the door to broader public participation.  The government has identified the need for public participation in policy processes as one of its top priorities. Indeed, the mandate letters of all government ministers emphasized the importance of openness, transparency, and consultation.  Since the 2015 election, the government has worked hard to meet its commitment to public participation by conducting numerous public consultations on a wide range of issues.

This emphasis on public participation can be contrasted with the Board, where hearings and activities are largely limited to a small group of stakeholders who invest heavily in the process. The effective exclusion of the public stands in sharp contrast to the other boards, tribunals, and agencies that address issues with individual parties but whose decisions have ramifications for a far broader group of stakeholders.

For example, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) and the Competition Bureau of Canada have both taken steps in recent years to involve the public more directly in policy making activities, hearings, and other issues. In the CRTC’s recent differential pricing hearing, it found a number of ways to engage the public, including discussions on the website Reddit. All of this participation enters the public record, allows for better informed decision making, and leads to greater confidence in the decisions themselves. By contrast, the Board does little to encourage public participation, despite the fact that its decisions often have an impact that extends beyond the parties before it.

When asked several years ago about accessibility and participation concerns, the Board pointed to a working group as evidence that it regularly reviews its practices and compared itself to the Federal Court of Appeal, noting that “of course they [the public] don’t participate, because they don’t really belong there, per se.”

With all respect, I think the Board is wrong and the lack of emphasis on public participation a shortcoming of the consultation document. The impact of the Board’s decisions extend far beyond the limited number of parties that participate in the hearing.  The most obvious stakeholders are intellectual property lawyers and copyright collectives, but decisions have a direct impact on commercial users, on the broader public, and on our understanding of copyright law.  This in turns implicates consumer pricing as well as copyright practices on issues such as fair dealing and the public domain.

Many branches of government and administrative agencies have recognized the need to engage the public and to develop better decision making processes by maximizing public participation and engagement. To date, the Board has not done so.  Its processes are costly, lengthy, and for all practical purposes inaccessible to the general public.  That needs to change.

The CRTC provides a good model for enhancing public participation.  Its participation funding approaches for both telecom and broadcast allow for public interest groups to appear, retain experts, and ensure that a broader perspective is included within the hearing process. The funding models place the cost burden on larger, wealthier participants such as telecommunications companies.  In the Board context, developing a mechanism to create a board participation fund supported by all commercial stakeholders should be a top priority.

Moreover, public participation and engagement must become a core part of the Board’s practices with rules that enable innovative forms of participation that lower the bar to participation and ensure that the broader public interest and perspective is included in the Board’s deliberations and decision making.  Courts have well established processes for intervenor status to allow broader participation in decision making and hearings. Those perspectives should be included in the Board’s decision making process, not wait for appellate hearings of Board decisions when these views are later brought into the record through interventions at the Federal Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court of Canada.

ii.    Board Member Independence

The government’s recent announcement that it plans to fill vacancies at the Board is to be welcomed by all stakeholders as a fully functioning board can better serve the public interest and the goals of enumerated in the consultation document.

In working to identify new board members, it is essential that any new board member be fully independent.  I recognize that there are frequently tensions between identifying qualified, experienced board members (who may often have a history of working in the sector) and ensuring full independence of the members of the board. A call for full independence is not meant to suggest that current or past members have been viewed as something less than independent. However, tribunals and boards may run the risk of losing public confidence where the “regulated become the regulator.”

Experience and expertise in the field is important, but independence is the essential ingredient in fostering public confidence in decision making. I would argue that prospective board members that have represented or worked for groups that regularly appear before the Board should refrain from sitting on the board itself.  While this may heighten the challenge of identifying suitable candidates, the result will better ensure that the public interest is served.

iii.    Copyright Collective Transparency and Regulation

The consultation document states:

Potential changes to the governance of collective societies more generally and the existing system for granting licences in respect of copyright belonging to owners who cannot be located are also beyond the scope of this consultation.

With respect, effective Board reform should not be limited to board procedures and processes.  Serving the public interest and gaining the confidence of the wider copyright community also depends upon the confidence in key stakeholders who serve as intermediaries in the administration of copyright. Given the interests of creators to be paid and users to ensure that their payments reach those creators, the role of copyright collectives is closely connected to the effective functioning of the Board.

The challenges associated with confidence in the management and transparency of copyright collectives represents a global concern. For example, the Australian copyright community was shocked by a scandal earlier this year involving the Copyright Agency, a copyright collective that diverted millions of dollars intended for authors toward a lobbying and advocacy fund designed to fight against potential fair use reforms. The collective reportedly withheld A$15 million in royalties from authors in order to build a war chest to fight against changes to the Australian copyright law. A former director of the Copyright Agency described the situation as “pathetic” noting that it was outrageous to extract millions from publicly-funded schools for a lobbying fund.

The Australian case is far from an isolated incident. In recent years, there have numerous examples of legal concerns involving copyright collectives with corruption fears in Kenya and competition law concerns in Italy over the past couple of months as well as recent fines against Spanish collecting societies. In fact, studies have chronicled an astonishing array of examples of corruption, mismanagement, lack of transparency, and negative effects for both creators and users from copyright collectives around the world.

Canada is home to an enormous number of copyright collectives and the allocation of revenues toward lobbying may also be an issue here. For example, this year’s Access Copyright annual report re-names the longstanding expense on copyright tariffs as “Tariff, litigation and advocacy costs”, better reflecting expenditures on lobbying and advocacy activities in which the organization lines up against fair dealing and in favour of copyright term extension. Since the introduction of copyright reform in 2010, Access Copyright has reported spending nearly $7 million on litigation that has been largely unsuccessful, tariff applications, and government lobbying and advocacy (the specific amounts totalling $6.81 million are 2016: $641,000, 2015: $443,000, 2014: $826,000, 2013: $1,571,000, 2012: $1,221,000, 2011: $1,459,000, 2010: $730,000).

There has been no evidence or reason to think that the full-scale corruption elsewhere has occurred in Canada. Indeed, there is every reason to think that Canadian copyright collectives and their administrators are deeply committed to representing the best interests of their members.  However, over the past decade there has been concerns voiced in some quarters about the management and transparency associated with Canadian copyright collectives.

For example, in 2008, Professor Martin L. Friedland conducted a study of Access Copyright, calling for dramatic change in governance, transparency, and royalty distribution practices.  Friedland began by noting:

I have undertaken a number of other public policy studies over the years, including such reasonably complex topics as pension reform, securities regulation, and national security, and have never encountered anything quite as complex as the Access Copyright distribution system. It is far from transparent. Very little is written down in a consolidated, cohesive, comprehensive, or comprehensible manner. There is no manual describing in detail how the distribution system operates.

The report continued by examining the history of Access Copyright, comparing it to other collectives, and identifying inequities in the distribution structure.  For example, it reveals that “in the distribution for 2005 under the federal government licence, the publishers received $188,256 for scholarly journals and the creators received nothing.”

The report included 20 recommendations for change. To its credit, Access Copyright made many reforms in response to the report, including significant changes to its board structure.  Yet that same year, the League of Canadian Poets and Access Copyright battled publicly over the copyright collective’s allocation policies. In a letter dated September 22, 2008, the League said that it was “calling for a formal, public, government audit, annual review and effectiveness audit of Access Copyright.”  It added that it is their “understanding that there are staff members at Industry who are going to look at ‘collectives’ in the next phase of Copyright Act reforms. Please look at Access Copyright first.”

The issues associated with copyright collectives were never fully addressed in the 2012 copyright reform process. Ensuring that the Board serves the public interest should include developing regulations regarding transparency and appropriate regulation of copyright collectives, whose intermediary role is frequently the final step between a Board ruling, user payment, and the distribution of funds to creators.

Other jurisdictions, including the European Union, Australia, and Japan use regulation or codes of conduct to address transparency and conduct concerns.  A 2012 study for the British government by Professor Brian Fitzgerald on regulation and codes of conduct for copyright collectives concluded:
Codes of conduct have little effect on improving the weak bargaining power of the majority of users – bargaining power is determined instead by the external regulatory regime in each jurisdiction, not by collecting societies per se.

From a Canadian perspective, the absence of measures is a significant impediment to ensuring full confidence in copyright administration and the consideration of new regulations should form part of the government’s efforts to reform the administration of copyright through the Board.

Thank you for your consideration.



RE: Consultations on the Options for Reform to the Copyright Board of Canada

The Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC) is a legal clinic based at the Centre for Law, Technology & Society at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law in Canada. Founded in 2003, CIPPIC’s mission is to contribute to public policy debates on technology law issues, ensure balance in policy and law-making processes, and provide legal assistance to under-represented organizations and individuals on matters involving the intersection of law and technology.

CIPPIC welcomes the opportunity to provide comments on the consultations regarding options for reform to the Copyright Board of Canada. Our primary purpose in responding is to promote reforms that would create a more expeditious, cheaper, and more efficient Copyright Board, one that operates with improved clarity, greater public participation, and a more proactive Board membership. These changes would foster innovation in the marketplace to the benefit of authors and users in Canada.

CIPPIC urges the Copyright Board of Canada to consider five reforms:

  1.  adopt shorter timeframes;
  2.  implement case management;
  3.  implement a streamlined evidentiary process;
  4.  extend tariff length to 5 years and eliminating tariff retroactivity; and
  5.  allow for interveners in tariff proceedings.

We note that these suggestions in no way constitute a comprehensive recommendation for Copyright Board reform. In our view, there are many forms a revamped Board could take. There are many administrative decision-making bodies, both within and without Canada, from which the Board could model reforms. However, in our view, and based on our past experience with and observation of the Board’s operations, these five considerations would improve the Board’s ability to fulfil its mandate.

We observe that the copyright industry is a regulated industry that enjoys significant state intervention in the market to its benefit. Copyright is a Parliamentary grant. Both the collective structure and the tariff system are again state regulatory mechanisms that operate to the benefit of the copyright industry. As a regulated industry, copyright interests may operate under conditions in which the state may justifiably impose reforms to the Board’s processes that benefit Canadians as a whole.

(i) Enabling the Board to Deal with Matters More Expeditiously

The procedures by which the Board deals with matters before it should expedite their resolution. Currently, matters take far too long to come to a resolution.

  • Consider adopting shortened timeframes. Other regulated industries, such as telecommunications, operate under far stricter timelines set by their regulators.
  • A procedurally streamlined evidentiary process would result in a much shorter timeframes by removing time-consuming and unnecessary activities. We particularly advocate a greatly truncated interrogatory system. We suggest that the Board is best placed to identify the kinds of evidence it requires to settle matters before it. A more proactive Board with a mandate to compel relevant evidence, and dispense with irrelevant and wasteful interrogatory proceedings, would prove a more effective and speedier decision-maker.

(ii) Implement Case Management of Board Proceedings

Case management is a tool by which the Board could accelerate its process, cut down on unnecessary costs and fulfil its mandate in a more efficient manner. Case management is now a common process in Canadian courts and tribunals.

  • In a managed system, proceedings are supervised by a case manager which would allow for the expeditions prosecution of proceedings before the Board while being attentive to the needs of the Board and the parties.
  • Managed proceedings would also allow for improved dispute resolution opportunities. Some matters could be resolved before having to be heard by the Board. The case manager has authority to select the best course of action in each case. Mandatory mediation is an option here that could sharpen the issues before the parties at an early date.
  • The Board should be proactive by choosing the extent and reach of evidence exchanged so that it be proportionate and designed for a speedy resolution.

(iii) Preventing Tariff Retroactivity or Limiting Its Impact by Other Means

CIPPIC would like to highlight the importance of certainty in the Canadian marketplace. Canadians have long complained of the slowness of new and innovative content services coming to market. Tariff retroactivity creates uncertainty since it imposes indeterminate liability for new service providers and innovators in the marketplace. This uncertainly hurts all Canadians – innovators and service providers, who cannot come to market under such conditions; authors and copyright owners, who cannot get paid for foregone use of content; and users, who are deprived of innovative services enjoyed by citizens of foreign countries operating under different conditions.

There are several mechanisms available for approaching the problem. Liability under a tariff could begin once a tariff is certified to promote certainty so that service may know what their costs will be. Mediation or an expedited proceeding could be used to set an interim tariff that is binding until the decision is reached. Whatever option is chosen should establish the Board as an actor that promotes innovation in content delivery in Canada.

(iv) Reducing the Number of Matters Coming Before the Board Annually

CIPPIC recommends extending the length of tariffs from 3 to 5 years. A prolonged tariff with the implementation of case management and a revised evidentiary process with streamlined procedures would reduce the number of cases annually and promote better certainty in the marketplace.

(v) Allowing Interveners in Matters Brought in Front of the Board

The Board’s current practice is to permit only tariff applicants and objectors to participate in tariff proceedings. However, tariff proceedings are onerous. Many organizations and individuals with legitimate interests in copyright lack the resources to participate before the Board. Indeed, the view of many is that the interrogatory process is intended to weed out participants to streamline Board proceedings.

The Board’s position on participation deprives it of the benefit of many worthwhile voices. Many organizations might offer the Board compelling legal arguments that would assist the Board in reaching decisions on important points of law, but have nothing to contribute on the evidentiary front or on the merits of the case before the Board. Courts have long admitted public interest interveners at all levels of the Courts. CIPPIC has made telling interventions in cases at first instance, on appeal and in the Supreme Court of Canada. However, it has never been able to offer its assistance to the Copyright Board.

In accordance with the Board’s mandate to resolve disputes and protect public interest, allowing public interest interveners would enable the Board to better safeguard the public interest while also efficiently administering matters before it.


We thank you for the opportunity to provide you with these comments. We hope you find them helpful.

Yours truly,

David Fewer Director, CIPPIC


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