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Government's role in copyright advocacy

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In many ways the South Pacific is virgin territory for the global copyright war - for that is how the active participants describe it. A war that has been raging in many countries around the world. A war that has seen the rights of large media companies winning out over those of users of culture with very few exceptions. In Fiji, to give an illustration, there is fairly current copyright legislation in place, the Copyright Act of 1999, but enforcement is currently spotty and public support for pirated culture is high. Some of the early shots have been fired as the few legitimate DVD vendors in Fiji have begun to complain openly about their numerous illegitimate and lower priced rivals [see "Increase in piracy worries operators" in the October 1, 2005 Fiji Times].

As in G8 countries, the battle to tip the balance of copyright in the South Pacific either towards the rights of users or the rights of copyright holders will be fought not only in the legislative arena, but also in terms of public opinion and funding for enforcement. Clearly, government has a crucial role to play in enforcement, but what should government's role be in swaying peoples' minds and hearts when it comes to copyright?

The Canadian Library Association recently passed a resolution decrying a public relations campaign put out by an industry group called Captain Copyright stating that,

[the Captain Copyright] website poses a threat to our shared information commons by providing biased copyright information to the Canadian public, particularly children and schoolteachers."
[quoted in CLA on Captain Copyright, Michael Geist]
It has now come to light that the ministry of Canadian Heritage has been approached to provide copyright education funding by the industry association running the Captain Copyright campaign. Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair of Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, reports that it is currently unknown as to whether the funding request was accepted or denied. In the end, I must agree with Geist's final analysis,
With hundreds of thousands of dollars provided to copyright lobby groups and tens of thousands of dollars spent on one-sided copyright awareness campaigns, it is becoming increasingly clear that Canadian Heritage copyright funding must be subject to greater transparency and oversight. Taxpayer dollars should not be used for lobbying or one-sided marketing campaigns with decisions made hidden behind closed doors. If the government wants to spend our money on public copyright initiatives, it must develop open, independent processes that are available to all stakeholders."
[Captain Copyright and the Search for Taxpayer Funding, Michael Geist]
Copyright and Intellectual Property law in general will become hot topics in the South Pacific in the years to come. Pacific governments need to be wary to put forward copyright legislation and policy that balances the needs of the creators of culture and the users of culture in order encourage and extend the cultural marketplace of the region. They must not be swayed by the property fundamentalism, to borrow a phrase from Lawrence Lessig, that is advocated by foreign Big Media and repeat the mistakes of the Canadian government.