Canadian groups oppose government move towards “US-style” digital copyright laws

A broad alliance of Canadian consumer advocacy groups is deeply concerned the Feds may be poised to introduce legislation that mirrors U.S. digital copyright laws, which severely limit consumer rights.

Coalition members include the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC), Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), Option Consommateurs (OC), and Online Rights Canada (

These groups have articulated their concerns in a document titled Canadian Copyright Law: A Consumer White Paper.

In the white paper they acknowledge existing Canadian copyright laws are “out of step with reality.”

But they say any move to bring the country in line with the anti-circumvention edicts of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) could undermine Canadian consumer rights.

Anti-circumvention legislation makes it illegal to circumvent certain technological barriers to copying intellectual property, such as digital rights management (DRM) tools.

Last Thursday, the coalition members sent a joint letter and a copy of their paper to Industry Minister Jim Prentice, who the group believes will be releasing amendments to the Copyright Bill this week – without having consulted Canadian consumers.

“Mr. Prentice has not consulted with a single consumer group,” said David Fewer, staff counsel for the Ottawa-based CIPPIC. “He claims to be balanced, but who is he speaking to – largely U.S. and entertainment industry analysts.”

Fewer expects the Canadian bill to be modeled after the controversial U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

That Act has served as the foundation for massive lawsuits filed by major record labels against people who downloaded music without their permission, and has been sharply criticized for this reason.

The Canadian bill will likely contain provisions that make it illegal to time shift television shows using a Personal Video Recorder, or copy files to CDs and MP3 players, the CIPPIC counsel added. could not reach Prentice but Industry Canada released the following statement:

 “The government has committed to improving the protection of cultural and intellectual property rights in Canada; The Minister of Canadian Heritage and the Minister of Industry Canada are working closely together with a view to introducing amendments to the Act; When ready, we will table a Bill proposing amendments to the Act.”

The coalition’s correspondence with Prentice, however, indicates it is being left out of the process, according to Michael Geist, Canada research chair of Internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa.

“The letter confirms what have been widely feared – the recording industry may have received assurance of a bill, yet Industry Minister Jim Prentice has still not consulted with Canadian consumer groups,” he wrote in his blog on Thursday.

Basically, the coalition’s views on anti-circumvention are:

  • There is no need in Canada for anti-circumvention legislation. In fact, local cultural industries are flourishing in the absence of such laws;
  • Copyright laws already provide penalties for copyright infringement and there is no need for a second layer of protection that penalizes, substantially, the same behaviour;
  • Corporations are needlessly investing millions of dollars on technology – such as DRM tools – that can easily be breached in a matter of hours;
  • Anti-circumvention laws do not improve on existing copyright laws but rather hamper competitive markets and threaten individual privacy and security; and,
  • Government should adopt a neutral stance on the anti-circumvention issue and work to ensure a level yet competitive playing field that benefits consumers, not particular business models.

If lawmakers decide to legislate anti-circumvention laws, Fewer said, these should respect consumer’s rights. “Canadians should not be held liable for accessing content and should enjoy an unfettered right to do so.”

Consumers must also be allowed to thwart technology measures – such as DRM tools – provided their access to underlying content does not infringe on copyright.

Consumer must also have the right to make backup copies of works that they own or purchase.

The group also said anti-circumvention laws must:

  • Not prevent people from developing, selling and using tools, devices and services to circumvent technological measures for legal reasons;
  • Retain the right of people to enjoy works privately and laws must not protect technology that does not respect privacy rights;
  • Should not consider as illegal, the removal of unwanted and illegal technology such as spyware;

The group also called for the abolishment of crown copyright to allow the public free and unrestricted access to works produced with public funds, and preservation of consumer digital rights.

The demands are long overdue, according to one Toronto-based e-commerce specialist.

“Our copyright laws have been overtaken by market and technological realities,” said Tim Richardson, professor of e-commerce, marketing and international business at Seneca College and the University of Toronto.

For instance, he said, there is a lack of clarity in the area of format shifting – when consumers transfer a copyrighted work from digital format to another.

“The world is awash with technology allows people thwart DRMs or convert TV shows to streaming video or copy them onto disks,” the Seneca professor said. “It’s being done by lots of people everyday for personal use. There’s simply no way to enforce the laws.”

Richardson also noted that the recording and movie industries remain locked on an antiquated revenue model. “But rather than develop new revenue streams these organizations push for laws that penalize individuals who are copying DVD’s for personal use.”

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