Copyright Policy at Industry Canada: More Than a Dilbert Strip

Copyright Policy at Industry Canada: More Than a Dilbert Strip

This past fall, I was lucky to have the opportunity to intern at Industry Canada in Ottawa as part of the Osgoode IP Law and Technology Intensive Program. Industry Canada is a federal department that works to make Canada’s industrial sectors more competitive in the world market by attracting investors and traders.  The Department’s focus is on stimulating tourism and technological innovation, encouraging entrepreneurship, and ensuring that laws allow Canadian businesses to operate efficiently.  Part of the Department’s work, therefore, is to set policies that will fix a direction for the Canadian economy by creating a suitable statutory framework.

In the department, policy making is overseen by the Strategic Policy Sector.  The sector consults stakeholders, academics, and experts in order to determine how existing policies can be ameliorated or enhanced to allow the Canadian economy to adapt to changes in the marketplace.  The Copyright and International Intellectual Property Policy Directorate focuses on copyright and international IP issues.  For the Copyright team – my team – their work this past fall meant assisting the Minister and his staff with the legislation of Bill C-11 (the Copyright Modernization Act), engaging with Canadian Heritage and stakeholders who may be affected by the Bill, and following the Supreme Court of Canada copyright cases that were heard last December.

I began my placement hoping to gain as much exposure to my strongest interest – the process of IP policy analysis and policy development.  My internship was a roller coaster of experiences, to say the least.  On the one hand, working with the copyright policy team at the time Bill C-11 was tabled meant that it was an exciting phase for our team.  On the other hand, it was also a busy and unpredictable phase. My tasks alternated between responding to urgent requests from senior management within 24 hours and having lengths of time to develop policy reports on the side.

Perhaps least surprising, I learned foremost how to think like a policy maker.  Policy development is about questions and answers.  Policy makers ask the right questions to lead them to the right answers – the right answer being that policy balance that would treat different stakeholders fairly.  The Supreme Court cases concerning online music downloading, for instance, touch on more issues than statutory interpretation.  A policy maker would delve into the purpose of copyright provisions and ask whether online music services ought to compensate copyright owners in a context where the works are not used or altered, merely delivered.  Similarly, deciding that a cinematographic soundtrack does not include individual sound recordings included in the film could change the way film industries incorporate music into cinematographic works.  Therefore, policy work involves a close understanding of how industries might react to legal changes, and likewise, how to implement changes to steer that reaction.

My internship with Industry Canada also showed me that policy work consists of translating extensive webs of theoretical concepts into practical solutions.  In many cases, this means boiling down reams of legal details into high-level, essential points to convey to senior management.  What I learned is that these skills are not merely germane to policy development but to almost all areas outside of law.  The law is saturated with details and intricacies which may be important to lawyers but not to those outside our profession.  Learning to glean the central issues is an important way to ensure that the legal profession is not disengaged from the “outside world.”

Alysia Lau is a JD student at Osgoode Hall Law School. Here, she reports on her experience at Industry Canada, while interning there as part of the inaugural offering of the Intellectual Property Law and Technology Intensive Program (IP Intensive) at Osgoode.