The Canadian Coalition for Electronic Rights (CCER) is pleased to see that the Government of Canada has tabled its Copyright Modernization Act (PDF). However, the CCER is deeply concerned at how easily consumer rights can be voided by the anti-circumvention provisions included in this legislation.
Albeit slightly more flexible than the Conservatives’ previous attempt at reforming copyright, Bill C-32 is flawed at its core by the inclusion of strict, anti-circumvention provisions. These anti-circumvention provisions are modeled after those found in the oft-criticized US DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) and effectively extinguish consumer and creator rights by tipping the balance of copyright law in favour of distributors and antiquated business models.
Bill C-32 includes provisions to address consumer activities such as format and time shifting, however these are all subject to digital locks. For example, consumers would now be permitted expressly by law to rip tracks from a CD into an MP3 and then transfer it their iPod or to make a backup copy of digital content to protect against loss or damage. However, what about consumers who want to watch a new DVD they bought on their iPad? No chance, as all commercially available DVDs employ digital locks and breaking a digital lock is not permitted by C-32 in this instance. Now what if a consumer wants to make a backup copy of a video game to protect their investment from undue wear and tear? Pointless, seeing as a digital lock needs to be bypassed in order to make that personal backup copy playable. According to Bill C-32 both of these reasonable consumer acts would be illegal and subject to penalties of up to $5000.00. So in actuality, the only rights Canadian consumers will get under Bill C-32 are those that the music, movie and game distributors decide they get or what has been aptly referred to as “market forces” in recent discussions surrounding the bill.
A more effective approach to the anti-circumvention provisions that inevitably seem to criminalize consumer activities in Bill C-32, would have been to link the act of circumvention to infringement as the Liberals did in their attempt at copyright reform. This approach is not only WIPO compliant but it integrates a greater deal of flexibility into copyright law by not placing a blanket prohibition on circumvention services, tools and devices. This approach would likely provide the greatest level of balance to Canada’s copyright regime by providing consumers with tangible rights and options rather than provisions that giveth with one hand and taketh away with the other. Such an approach would also ensure that creators are fairly compensated for their work while at the same time provide incentives for future innovation. Unfortunately, ministers Moore and Clement are taking Canada in a different direction. A direction that may appease certain interests in the United States and European Union at the expense of Canadian consumer rights.
Another attention grabbing provision included in Bill C-32 is the legitimization of PVR devices and associated time and format shifting activities. Sounds great doesn’t it? You can now use that PVR you purchased to record your favourite TV shows for viewing at a later date and time without fear of being on the wrong side of the law…for now. This provision is also subject to digital locks (broadcast flags) that will inevitably be used in Canadian television broadcasts that will prevent a program from being recorded to your PVR or cause a recorded program to delete itself after a given period of time. Try to bypass these broadcast flags and you’ll find yourself on the wrong side of the law according to Bill C-32. Going from a consumer to a criminal just by engaging in a reasonable consumer activity will be the direct result of the anti-circumvention provisions in Bill C-32.
Bill C-32 provisions are not all as contentious as the anti-circumvention provisions are, in fact C-32 does take some positive steps forward in the areas of fair dealing, intermediary liability and educational exemptions. The Canadian Coalition for Electronic Rights fully supports Bill C-32’s inclusion of a “notice and notice” approach to internet service provider liability. Meaning that, after being contacted by a copyright holder about a potential infringement, an ISP will be required to notify the customer that he or she may be violating the law. The customer’s personal information could then be released to the copyright holder with a court order.
Bill C-32 is now set to make its way through the parliamentary process and be referred to a committee where it will be reviewed line by line and where hopefully the public can be heard from in a fair and representative way. Industry Minister Tony Clement has made statements in the media indicating there exists an openness to amending Bill C-32 in a way to ensure balance for all sides of the equation. Clement’s continued willingness to engage Canadian consumers in an open dialogue on the copyright issue is rare and presents a unique opportunity that must not be squandered. If Canadians remain silent there is a real possibility that Bill C-32 will become the law of the land in its current flawed form, undermining the reasonable rights of all Canadians with its draconian protection for digital locks. However, if Canadians take the time to engage themselves in this important issue and speak out, Bill C-32 can be fixed and a proper balance in Canada’s copyright regime established in a responsible and sovereign manner.
In the coming days the Canadian Coalition for Electronic Rights will be updating its online letter writing tool to reflect the introduction of Bill C-32 and its worrisome anti-circumvention provisions. Michael Geist has also relaunched Speak Out on Copyright to focus on this bill and encourages Canadians to join the Fair Copyright for Canada Facebook group (to get active) and the Fair Copyright for Canada Facebook Page (to stay updated).