Experts say copyright reform needs to solidify Canada’s place in AI development

Originally written Nov. 5, 2018

Four witnesses touched on various ways the act could be reformed to benefit AI development in Canada as a whole.

Experts say reform to the Copyright Act could guarantee Canada as a global competitor in the development of artificial intelligence (AI) technology.

At the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology on Oct. 3, witnesses urged the government to make amendments to clarify infringement laws and protect AI development.


“Our momentum is favourable, we’re proud of our achievements, but the best is yet to come,” said Paul Gagnon, a legal advisor from Element AI, a Toronto and Montreal based AI product company. “We want to discuss how Canada’s place as a world leader in AI is not guaranteed.”

Jayson Hlichie, president and CEO of the Entertainment Software Association of Canada opened the meeting with an impactful statement on the video-game industry’s importance in the Canadian economy.


Hlichie explained that even with software encryption technologies that reduce hackers’ abilities to “crack” games, pirated games are still something the industry struggles to combat. While developments have been effective in reducing piracy, Hlichie said more can be done to educate consumers on piracy.


Currently, Internet Service Providers (ISP) uses notice and notice regimes to inform users on piracy breaches. But, often notices are not forwarded to consumers, or consumers don’t understand or ignore the warnings, said Hlichie.


“We believe there is an opportunity for the government of Canada to work with ISP’s to ensure that the notice and notice regime is properly enforced and utilized,” he said.
Hlichie said these notices are the most effective way to create awareness and educate consumers on copyright infringement.


“By better educating people about the harms of piracy, we can work to improve conditions of all types,” he said.


Gagnon asked the government to clarify terms around informational analysis, also known as text and data mining. He compared informational analysis to looking at a painting and drawing patterns by measuring distances, colors, and tones.
“It’s not the work itself, it’s the information that can be derived,” he said.

Gagnon also described data mining as the fuel that supplies AI, and that clearer laws around it will drive fairness and inclusion.


“Our AI will only be as good as the data we provided,” he said. “We think there’s a great opportunity to clarify this data gap now, because we generate data but it’s not accessible to smaller players. We want to ensure competitiveness, so data is accessible . . . so the chasm between internet giants isn’t broader.”


Christian Troncoso, director of policy at BSA, The Software Alliance, and Nevin French, from the Information Technology Association of Canada, both said the Copyright Act needs to change to include a policy framework for AI development and commercialization.


“This requires policies that promote access to data,” French said.

French explained that without a Copyright Act that allows AI access to data without breaching infringement laws, Canada will fall behind other countries in competitiveness. He suggested that the copyright act be amended to allow for the copying of “lawfully accessed works for AI purposes,” meaning that “copying, analyzing, and using lawfully works and data to develop new knowledge does not require authorization of the copyright owner.”


Both witnesses urged that AI needs to be able to develop new data without concerns of infringing on pre-existing data.


An example Troncoso gave to describe the concept, is a mobile app which describes scenes for blind people. Users will upload a photo and AI will pull from pre-existing photos to describe the image. While the actual description is new data, the pictures being used are not and therefore could be considered copyright infringement.


“The Copyright Act currently lacks an expressed exception to enable that type of informational analysis and therefore there is an uncertainty about what kind of action is permitted under the law,” Troncoso said.


Following the testimonies of the four witnesses, the meeting opened into question period where committee members clarified terms there were unclear with.

Published by rachelemmanuel

Rachel has covered government institutions from a variety of levels and for a variety of outlets. A Carleton University journalism student she is an experienced news writer and editor who has mentored and trained reporters with The Charlatan, Carleton’s weekly student newspaper. Rachel has worked as a multimedia reporter for three of Metroland Media’s Niagara newspapers, covering education, marijuana legalization, and business. Her work has been published in the Toronto Star. Rachel currently writes for iPoliticsINTEL, where she covers Parliamentary committee meetings, specializing in Canadian copyright law.

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