Canadian Politician Uses Nutty Hybrid Copyright Complaint In Attempt To Stifle Criticism
from the if-this-then-that dept
The political debate in Canada is heating up, with the Conservative party recently launching a series of attack ads aimed at the new Liberal party leader, Justin Trudeau. Whatever you think of these kinds of ads — and I am of the mind that it sucks to see them getting more and more popular in Canada, no matter which party is using them — former Liberal leader and current Liberal MP Stéphane Dion has now shown everyone how not to respond to them. In a letter to Canada's election regulators, Dion has presented the incredibly twisted argument that the footage in these ads violates copyright law, which makes it an illegal campaign contribution:
Recently, the CPC used footage owned by the Huffington Post and CTV in a television advertising campaign directed at the Liberal Party of Canada. These advertisements are being aired nationally, including in Labrador where a by-election is currently being held. I understand from media reports that the CPC is using this footage without the copyright holders’ permission and presumably without paying the copyright holders to license the material. I understand that the licensing of copyrighted materials ordinarily comes at a cost.
I am raising my concerns with you because the CPC’s unauthorized use of this material, while inconsistent with our country’s copyright laws, may also be non-compliant with the Canada Elections Act (the “Act”). In my view, the unpaid use of copyrighted material is a “non-monetary contribution” to the CPC, as defined in s.2(1) of the Act.
We've seen lots of people try to use copyright for the sole purpose of shutting down criticism before, but this situation is unique because of just how weird Dion's argument is. He's not actually asking for the Conservative party to be penalized for infringing on copyrights, or for the commercials to be blocked because they are infringing — how could he? He's not the copyright holder. Instead, he's claiming that making unauthorized and also unpaid use of the footage constitutes accepting non-monetary campaign contributions from CTV and the Huffington Post, and is asking for an investigation based on election rules.
Firstly, this just makes the Liberal party look insecure. It's hard to believe there is any real concern about this as a campaign funding issue — it's an attempt to shut up critics, plain and simple. More importantly, commentary and criticism are protected under Canada's fair dealing laws just like they are under America's fair use laws, which rips the foundation right out from under this argument. The Conservatives have every right to use the footage in this way without a license, but Dion's request hinges on the idea that they didn't pay for a license when they should have. Even if that were true, the idea that using something without permission counts as a "contribution" from the rightsholder is bizarre on the surface and likely to baffle most people — even if the definitions in the Elections Act make it at least conceivable that such an argument could prevail. In a battle for the people's approval and support, devious policy tactics don't look any better than aggressive attack ads.
Moreover, what exactly does Dion want here anyway? For Elections Canada to start investigating a civil copyright issue that hasn't even been raised by the people with standing to do so? How would that even work? Without an accusation of copyright infringement from CTV or the Huffington Post, there's no basis on which to investigate this. So far, the only word from the two news organizations has been to confirm that they didn't give permission, and that they have "made our concerns known" — they haven't even actually said they think the use was infringing, let alone brought a lawsuit. And if the Conservatives were sued over copyright, and a court found them guilty of infringement and ordered them to pay, would this still be an illegal campaign contribution? Dion's whole argument is petty at best, and utterly paradoxical at worst.