The Conservative government is planning to change Canada’s copyright law to allow political parties to use content published and broadcast by news organizations for free in their own political ads.

An internal Conservative cabinet document obtained by CTV News details an amendment to the Copyright Act which would allow “free use of ‘news’ content in political advertisement intended to promote or oppose a politician or political party.”

The amendment would also remove “the need for broadcasters to authorize the use of their news content.” And it would force media outlets to run political ads even if their own footage and content was used in a negative message to voters. 

The internal document warns that media outlets will vehemently claim their work is being unfairly targeted for the benefit of political parties. The document provides instructions to Conservatives to come up with a strong communication plan to manage the reaction.

The proposed legislation is buried in the latest instalment of the omnibus bill, which is sure to pass in the House of Commons, given the Conservative majority. The bill will be introduced in the coming weeks.

Opposition parties say sneaking in a change to the Copyright Act in the massive bill is “deceitful” and designed to give the Conservative campaign an edge ahead of next year’s federal election.  

“Changing copyright law … to improve their odds of winning over the Canadian public as opposed to improving copyright law to improve the economy, let’s say, is disrespectful,” NDP finance critic Nathan Cullen told CTV News. 

“And to bury it in the middle of an omnibus bill suggests that they knew this wouldn’t be popular.”

Cullen said using material gathered by journalists for attack-ad purposes without having to ask for news outlets’ permission is “disrespectful” and “shameful.”

“If I say something unflattering or if I do something that looks a little embarrassing, suddenly it’s a Conservative ad,” he said.

“They just don’t seem to have any ethical boundary at all. Anything goes, as long as it plays to their advantage.”

Deputy Liberal Leader Ralph Goodale accused the Conservatives of “choosing a very devious process” to bypass copyright rules that currently prevent them from using media outlets’ material.

“This is an attempt to take something that is clearly illegal at the moment…and to change the law so that the rules will now suit Conservative practices,” he said.

Goodale said the move would disadvantage news organizations and, “most seriously, it will blur the line between news and propaganda.”

Although the copyright amendment would allow all political parties to use news content, Cullen said the NDP is “guided by a different ethic” and does not want to produce attack ads or “smear campaigns.”

The Conservative Party has already been accused of lifting content from media organizations without permission, for use in attack ads against Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau. 

Some media outlets teamed up and sent a letter to all political parties in May, warning them that use of their content without express authorization will not be tolerated.

Pollster Nik Nanos said the proposed copyright change will make it “very easy to quickly produce attack ads in order to turn things around.

“I think the Conservatives think they’re going to need to be very agile in the next election and quite negative in order to tear down the Liberal and the Trudeau brand. And what this does is provide them the opportunity to have that flexibility,” he said.

Nanos said it appears that Trudeau is “a much more elusive figure to run attack ads against,” so the Conservatives are trying to deploy “every resource they can.”

With a report from CTV’s Ottawa Deputy Bureau Chief Laurie Graham