Movie Piracy in Canada

Movie Piracy in Canada

Daniel Pearlman is a first year law student at Osgoode Hall and is taking the Legal Values: Challenges in Intellectual Property course

Movie piracy is a widely debated IP issue. While many would agree that movie piracy is a problem, much controversy surrounds both the extent of movie piracy, and how it ought to be addressed. In this commentary I will briefly examine competing views on this issue,  in order to highlight the difficulties in resolving this challenge.

The film industry's perspective offers a useful starting point for this analysis. The Canadian Motion Pictures Distributors Association (CMPDA) presented evidence to the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology on the harms of counterfeiting and piracy.  The Committee notes that in 2005, film piracy in Canada accounted for approximately $270 million in losses for the Canadian film industry.  This figure illustrates the costs piracy imposes on industry. Furthermore, government has taken steps to curb this problem.

Bill C-59 stands as an attempt by the Canadian government to alleviate the impact of film piracy. The Bill criminalizes the camcording of cinematographic works in a theatre, for either personal or commercial use. This legislation reflects the government's appreciation of the film industry's concerns over movie piracy.

The legislative summary of Bill C-59 explicitly outlines the impact of pirated films on industry. The summary cites film industry data presented to the Standing Committee, and notes that 90% of pirated films are recorded in theatres. What is more, 20-25% of these copies are made in Canada. The inclusion of these statistics in the summary demonstrates the  government's recognition of the harm piracy inflicts on the film industry. Nevertheless, there has been criticism of the industry's role in the formulation of the bill.

Criticisms of the film industry's position, and it's role in passing Bill C-59, highlights the controversy surrounding movie piracy. Michael Geist has been outspoken in his critique of Bill C-59. In an article published in the Ottawa Citizen, Geist laments over the role of industry in shaping the governments approach to piracy. More specifically, Geist points to the conflicting figures relied on by the Canadian Heritage Minister in presenting Bill C-59. According to Geist, the film industry aggressively lobbied the government for anti-camcording legislation, and provided the government with inconsistent data.  U.S. film industry representatives suggested that 40% of the world's pirated copies came from Montreal. This figure is nearly twice the number offered by the CMPDA for Canada's contribution as a whole.

Geist argues that the passing of Bill C-59, which is nearly identical to a proposed bill presented by  industry representatives, demonstrates the success of industry lobby efforts. Moreover, Geist believes that the  government has sent a clear message that, "private meetings, foreign pressures and lobbyist-drafted bills are how law gets made in Canada". Despite Geist's position, the data presented by the CMPDA indicates that movie piracy is costly. Therefore, the question remains, is camcording the cause of these losses, or contrary to the legislative summary for Bill C-59, are there other forms of piracy at work?

A recent study by suggests that this camcording is not the dominant form of pirated content. This study examined over six years of piracy data. More specifically, the study focused on the release of both camcorded, and DVD quality copies of Oscar nominated movies. The researchers found that 23 of the 26 Oscar nominated films had DVD quality copies available online prior to nomination day. Further, many of these films had DVD quality copies available prior, or shortly after, the release of a camcorded copy.  While this study would suggest that camcording is only a fraction of the piracy issue, it must be taken with a grain of salt. Although the methodology is relatively simple, it is difficult to rely on the study, posted exclusively on the blog of an independent journalist, as authoritative. Nevertheless, the study demonstrates that  camcording may not be the dominant source of pirated films. This finding  would suggest that Bill C-59 may not effectively remedy the problem.

In closing,  movie piracy is a hot-button topic. On the one hand, the losses suffered by the  film industry are a clear indication of the detrimental impact of this activity. On the other hand, the influence of lobby groups, some of which present conflicting data, is potentially problematic.  Further, while Bill C-59 represents progress, it may not address the root of the problem. Thus, until an independent study is conducted, which offers a consistent assessment of  the scope of the piracy issue, it will be difficult to arrive at a solution that effectively addresses this problem.