I know, most Canadians are either too “cool” or too apathetic to care about copyright law.
It’s a shame because the Conservative government in Canada is trying to push through Parliament a new copyright bill, under pressure from the United States, that strongly favours (mainly American owned) large content companies at the expense of Canadian consumers. The proposed new law in the form of Bill C-11, which is now in second reading in the House of Commons, threatens to make criminals of many Canadians for actions that they now regularly carry out, and which most Canadian consumers believe are well within their rights.
The House of Commons is now adjourned until January 30, 2012, and as Russell McOrmond points out:
MPs are in their electoral districts, which is the best time for people to contact their MPs and let them know what they think about Bill C-11.
The Canadian Coalition for Electronic Rights has made available a website that makes it easy for Canadians to contact their MPs and cabinet ministers, to express their discontent with Bill C-11. Essentially this website will send out a pre-written letter to the MPs stating that Bill C-11 is flawed and should be modified before being passed. It’s a useful tool for people who don’t have much free time since it only takes a few minutes to use. However if you have the time, it would likely have more impact if you were to write your own letter or even pick up your phone to speak to your MP directly. If they support Bill C-11, be sure to demand an explanation as to why they are selling-out Canadian consumers to the benefit of American corporations.
So what’s the big problem with Bill C-11?
Well, there are plenty of websites out there that provide better explanations and go into more detail than I possibly could, so I’ll just summarize the major points. If you’d like to read more about the issues involved with Bill C-11 I’d suggest reading Michael Geist’s blog, or The Digital Copyright Canada blog, both of which cover the issues in detail.
OK, on the surface Bill C-11 seems to do some good things. It gives “fair dealing” rights to Canadians for the purposes of satire, parody and most importantly for education. In Canada fair dealing rights are more-or-less the same as “fair use” rights in the United States. The United States has long provided fair use rights for parody, satire and education, so it’s good to see Canadians finally being given equivalent rights. Sounds good right?
The problem is that Bill C-11 also makes it illegal to override “technological protection measures” or TPMs in digital content. This effectively renders the newly granted fair dealing rights meaningless since any content producer could block an individuals rights by using TPMs on their content.
So what are these TPMs? It’s simply the jargon used within Bill C-11 referring to digital copy protection. It’s the technology that content producers use in an attempt to make it difficult to make copies of their content. If you’ve used digital media at all you’ve no doubt run up against it – it can be used to protect any digital media – from videos (both physical media like DVDs or Bluerays and online sources), to ebooks, to video games or music or any other digital content.
In other circles TPMs are known as “digital locks” or DRM for “digital rights management” or sometimes “digital restrictions management” depending on your point of view. It’s all the same thing – digital copy protection.
I’ve been opposed to DRM (or TPM) for about as long as it’s existed, but as much as I like to rant about the horrors of DRM it’s really beyond the point of this post. Simply put, DRM is totally ineffective at preventing piracy (it’s purported purpose), can always be broken, and is really used by companies to take advantage of consumers that legally purchased the content.
Now, back to Bill C-11. Since the bill makes it illegal to break TPM, any content producing company can simply slap some weak TPM scheme on their digital content and suddenly it becomes illegal to copy the content, even for the fair dealings purposes which were just granted in this very same bill.
Let’s look at an example close to my heart: as a university teacher I regularly use figures from textbooks in my lectures. Since Canada, so far, doesn’t grant fair dealing rights for educational purposes, this would be of questionable legality in Canada. Lucky for me I don’t teach in Canada. The new fair dealing rights that are proposed by Bill C-11 would make it legal for me to do this. Huzzah! But, this breaks down if the textbook is in an electronic format and it’s protected by some TPM. Virtually all electronic textbooks (and all ebooks in general) are encumbered by some form of TPM so this is very likely. It would then be explicitly illegal for me to do this, taking away my fair dealing rights granted by the very same Bill C-11.
Another example, that might hit closer to home for more people: Bill C-11 would make it illegal for a person who legally purchased a movie on a DVD from making a copy and watching that movie on their computer (or for example, their iPad). Commercial DVDs are protected by a very weak form of copy protection (TPM) that is trivial to break (it’s often broken transparently by DVD copying software). So even though a person has legally purchased the movie – they would not be legally allowed to make a back-up copy or to watch the movie how they like. If that person wanted to watch the movie on their iPad they would be obligated to buy another copy through iTunes. See what I mean about TPMs being used to take advantage of consumers?
So, clearly Bill C-11 is flawed and should be fixed before it’s passed. Most opponents to the bill have proposed a solution that would make it legal to break TPMs only for legal purposes (such as for the newly granted fair dealings rights). This would solve all the problems with Bill C-11 that currently exist. Companies could continue to try to take advantage of consumers by using TPMs. It would be illegal to break the TPMs unless it was for a specific legal purpose. Both the companies and the consumers would be protected.
So, if you’re Canadian, and you want to ensure that your rights are not degraded by this new bill, be sure to get in touch with your MP as soon as possible. The Conservatives will be trying to push this bill into law as soon as Parliament resumes in February, so time is running out!