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Canada set to try again on new copyright law

By Randall Palmer

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Canadian government, struggling to stay ahead of fast-moving technological developments, will launch consultations next week to help it craft new copyright legislation.

Its last legislative attempt was killed off by an election in October 2008, and the government said in a statement on Friday it would begin a new round of talks with interested parties, with a roundtable in Vancouver on Monday.

"There were issues it didn't address," Deirdra McCracken, a spokeswoman for Heritage Minister James Moore, said of last year's legislation. "This is a new process."

The latest legislative process also risks being overtaken by an election. The minority Conservative government needs the support of at least one opposition party in the House of Commons to stay in power. Some in the main opposition Liberal Party are pushing to bring down the government and force a November or December election, while others are hesitant and nothing is sure.

The bill the government introduced in June 2008 would have allowed Canadians to copy legally acquired music to their iPods and computers but would have banned them from getting around any digital locks that companies might apply.

The old legislation also would have reduced the penalties that companies could seek for most private infringements of copyright to a maximum total of C$500 ($445) from a previous C$20,000 per infringement.

Currently, someone downloading five movies without authorization for private use could be sued for C$100,000, whereas the maximum would have been reduced to C$500 -- a level that would have made firms unlikely to pursue individuals.

Commercial levels of piracy, however, would have faced far more severe liabilities in corporate lawsuits and also would continue to be subject to criminal prosecution, with penalties of up to five years in prison.

The U.S. Trade Representative fingered Canada in April, putting it on its priority watch list because of growing concerns about what it sees as weak protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights.

There is always a struggle between pleasing copyright holders and users, a balance that tries to recognize the modern reality of an increasingly tech-savvy population while not eliminating ownership rights protection for companies and artists.

($1=$1.12)

(Editing by Rob Wilson)

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