Copyright bill strikes discordant note with Canadian musicians, consumer groups

Canadian artists as well as other consumers will be singing the blues, while big businesses reap mega profits if Bill C-61 – the proposed amendment to the Copyright Act – is passed into law, say local musicians and consumer rights advocates.

The bill, which was tabled before Parliament late last week by Industry Minister Jim Prentice, is half-baked and ignores existing market realities and the interests of digital media consumers, according to the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic.

“This bill looks to the past, not the future,” said Philippa Lawson, director of the Ottawa-based public rights watchdog.

Local artists have also expressed concern over the development.

“As we feared, this bill represents an American-style approach to copyright. It’s all locks and lawsuits,” says Safwan Javed, drummer for Wide Mouth Mason, a three-man blues rock band from Saskatchewan.

“Suing fans won’t make it 1992 again. It’s a new world for the music business and this is an old approach,” said Javed, also a member of the Canadian Music Creators Coalition (CMCC).

CMCC is an alliance of nearly 200 Canadian acts which includes performers such as Sam Roberts, Our Lady Peace, Sarah McLachlan and Avril Lavigne.

According to CIPPIC and the broad coalition of artistes and consumer rights groups, Bill C-61 mirrors the controversial U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The Act was used by major record labels to file massive lawsuits against people who downloaded music without their permission.

The coalition still has to officially hear back from the government on a white paper it recently delivered, according to John Lawford, research analyst and lawyer with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in Ottawa.

He said release of the Bill was premature because Prentice had failed to consult with consumers who will bear the brunt of the proposed law.

The Copyright Act of Canada was last updated in 1997, some four years before the MP3 players were introduced.

Bill C-61 would make Canadians liable for a $500 fine if they are caught downloading without producers’ permission copies of music and movies online. But judges can still award other penalties.

Current laws allow for a maximum fine of $20,000 for each instance of copyright infringement, whether downloading or uploading.

Similarly, the bill makes it illegal for individuals to tamper with digital rights management tools (DRMs) or digital locks that manufacturers embed on devices and media to prevent copying of content or unauthorized use of gadget.

Prentice maintains that the bill is a “unique made-in-Canada approach to copyright reform” and said it balances the rights of creators and consumers.

Industry groups have welcomed the proposed legislation.

“We’re pleased that the government is finally tabling something and recognizing that intellectual property is vital to the Canadian economy,” said Catherine Saxberg, executive director of the Canadian Music Publishers Association.

She said her organization is looking forward to join consultation with the government on the matter when the Bill is considered in the fall.

Critics, however, are troubled that provisions setting damages of up to $20,000 for anyone caught hacking DRMs would lead to thousands of average Canadians paying stiff penalties.

The stipulation could hit individuals who copy movies or TV programs on their home DVD machines for personal use, to business and leisure travelers who have the cell phones unlocked to avoid exorbitant long distance charges when traveling out of the country.

“The digital lock provisions, which are really the core of this legislation, are in many ways worse than the U.S. laws,” according to Michael Geist, law professor at the University of Ottawa.

Music labels in the U.S. for example, have filed more than 28,000 lawsuits against individual file sharers.

Jammie Thomas, a single mother in Minnesota, who was ordered to pay $222,000 by a federal jury last October on 24 counts of copyright infringement. Thomas’ is the only trial to go to jury in a piracy case,

Such actions are punitive and futile, according to David Fewer, counsel for CIPPIC. “Companies put in millions of dollars to embed DRMs on devices, but technology has made it possible for individuals to disarm them in minute.”

What industries need is a new revenue model, he said.

Javed, of Wide Mouth Mason, agrees.

“As an artist, I want my fans to enjoy my music anywhere and any way that is convenient for them.”

Rather than benefit artists and ensure them an income, protecting music CDs from copying and outlawing free-for-all file downloads will only serve big record companies and alienate musicians from their fans, he said.

He said musicians earn only about $1 for every $20 CD that is sold by recording companies. A large part of their income is generated from shows, tours and concerts.

The industry should investigate other revenue streams. One suggestion is to have a monthly flat fee for Internet users who download music or videos.

Internet service providers (ISPs) also expressed reservations over Bill C-61.

“There’s a lot of grey area and holes in this proposed legislation. Some can say it’s half baked,” said Rocky Gaudrault, CEO of TekSavvy Solutions Inc. an independent ISP company is Chatham, Ont.

For example, he said, the issue of enforcement needs to be clearly defined.

Gaudrault said many businesses such as his are worried ISPs will be compelled to snoop on Internet users to determine if they are breaking the law.

“We are already required by law to do this when the police come over with a search warrant. But are they saying that record companies will be requiring us to do the same for them?”

Such a development would pit copyright against privacy rights, he said.

ISPs are simply not equipped, nor should they be required to take on this sort of responsibility, Gaudrault said.

“We are meant to be conduits between the Internet and the people. We’re not into policing.”

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