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Copyfight in Canada Redux

Jim Prentice, Minister of 8-Tracks [Jun 20] »

The copyright amendment bill C-61 tabled yesterday by Industry Minister Jim Prentice is worse for Canadians than expected.

Personal Use and Fair Dealing

On the surface it appears to contain a number of provisions for personal use and fair dealing. It seems to allow for “time shifting” (recording a tv show to watch later), “format shifting” (copying media from analogue to digital format), and private copying of music (copying from a cd to a mp3 player). However, all of these rights disappear if the media in question contains digital locks.

Digital Locks

Digital locks (often referred to as DRM) are already in place on all DVDs and are in wide-spread use on digital music files, Ebooks, CDs and digital television broadcasts. Not only would these digital lock provisions allow corporations to revoke our personal-use rights, they would also revoke our right to copy for the purposes of research, private study, criticism, and news reporting.

The bill’s “anti-circumvention provisions” would criminalize any attempt to circumvent digital locks. Although exceptions have been made for privacy, people with sight and hearing disabilities, and security, these exceptions are worthless since the tools needs to pick the digital locks would be banned. Creation of new tools to pick digital locks would also be against the law.

Digital locks are also used to cripple the functionality of cellphones and other electronic devices. For me, this hits close to home. I teach a mobile programming course at Red River College. Because of the locks in place on the majority of cellphones, my students are unable to test their programming creations on real phones. Some students have figured out how to circumvent the locks on their phones in order to run their programs. This bill would make them criminals.

Educational and Library Exceptions

The bill’s exceptions for libraries and educational use are laughable.

All educational exceptions are revoked for digitally locked media. Copying and pasting from a locked Ebook for a book report would therefore be a criminal act. Also, any internet or video-based lectures that contained copyrighted material (covered under the educational exceptions) would have to be destroyed at the end of the school year. The forced re-development of course material will put unnecessary strains on an education system that is increasingly reliant on internet and video course delivery.

The exceptions for libraries are equally restrictive. Any digital media lent out by a library would have to ‘self-destruct/erase’ within 5 days. Librarians would also have to police the use and further distribution of this media. Not only are these requirement a technical and financial burden on libraries, they also stand in opposition to a library’s function as a hub for the sharing and distribution of knowledge.

Laissez-Fair Enforcement

What is even more ridiculous is that the conservative government has now gone on the record saying they likely won’t enforce much of the copyright legislation. Instead they would encourage corporations to enforce the regulations through litigation. For example, parents of children who share music online could be sued for up to $20,000 per song. This type of copyright litigation is already widely practiced in the U.S.

Speaking of which, Canada is also facing U.S. pressure to sign on to the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) at the G8 submit this fall. Under this agreement the policing of the new copyright act would include border guards searching iPods and laptops for infringing media, and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) spying on the internet activities of their customers.

Senseless Reforms

The act of copying copyrighted media in Canada is already illegal, there is little sense in making it more illegal. There is little sense in promoting widespread American-style copyright enforcement through litigation. There is little sense in making provisions for personal use and fair-dealings, only to have corporations decide if Canadians can make use of these rights. And there is little sense in tabling copyright amendments that go against several Supreme Court decisions on the role of copyright in Canada (see below).

For information on how to stop these proposed amendments read Michael Geist’s The Canadian DMCA: A Betrayal.

More Information

The Canadian Supreme Court on Copyright

The Supreme Court declared in Theberge v. Galerie d’Art du Petit Champlain (2002):

“Excessive control by holders of copyrights and other forms of intellectual property may unduly limit the ability of the public domain to incorporate and embellish creative innovation in the long-term interests of society as a whole, or create practical obstacles to proper utilization.”

The court also noted:

“Once an authorized copy of a work is sold to a member of the public, it is generally for the purchaser, not the author, to determine what happens to it.”

In 2004, in CCH v. Law Society of Upper Canada, the Supreme Court was even more explicit about the importance of users’ rights.

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