By Nestor E. Arellano
The most recent iteration of the Canadian copyright reform bill which the government tabled yesterday is being praised by many for balancing the interests of copyright holders and consumers on many key issues.
Bill C-11 mirrors the previous Bill C-32 which the then minority Conservative government failed to push pass the House of Commons last year. It sets out what consumers and educators can and cannot do with copyrighted song, video, games, e-books and other digital content.
However, the bill may also have some serious implications for businesses that purchase tech hardware.
Here are some points where the bill attempts to provide some leeway to users:
- Under the proposed bill, if you purchase a music CD and copy the contents to your iPod for personal listening, that’s fine and legal. These are not allowed under the current copyright law
- The bill extends fair dealing exemptions adding parody, satire and education as categories. Consumers, artists and educators can break copyright if it is for educational, artistic or research use and not for commercial use
- Individuals are allowed create their own mash-ups or remix of copyrighted material as long as it is for non-commercial purposes and does not adversely affect rights holders
- The bill employs a “notice-and-notice” system that protects Internet Service Providers from liability for the actions of their users. Without such protection, ISPs, search engines and other sites are prone to remove legitimate content when they face legal threats
- In the area of statutory fines, the bill distinguishes between commercial and non-commercial copyright infringement. There is now a $5,000 cap on liability in non-commercial infringement cases
- The contains provisions for going tough on sites that enable infringement such as peer-to-peer file sharing sites
The bill however remains staunch on the issue of digital rights management (DRM) and digital locks.
Bill C-11 contains a general anti-circumvention provision on breaking digital locks even if it is for personal use. For instance, if you bought an e-book and transfer it to another device, the bill does not distinguish this activity from a person picking the digital lock on a DVD in order to copy it by the thousands and sell those copies.
Canadian consumer and privacy advocacy groups are against this move towards stronger DRM laws while organizations such as the Canadian Music Reproduction Rights Agency Ltd. have doubts about the benefits of digital locks.
It should be noted that companies do not have to use digital locks on their products. But if they do, the bill will provide legal protection.
I think users should also be concerned when technical measures such as digital locks are used on to the devices they purchase.
Under such a scenario the manufacturers are in effect removing from the device owner effective control and use of a product they have purchased.
Digital locks on devices would prevent owners, for instance to run software or media that manufacturers have decided should not be played on their products. It’s like a developer selling you a house, giving you a title of ownership but retaining the right to tell you who you are allowed to invite into your house.
This not only makes open source softwareillegal but also binds the device owners to certain types of media and content which they can run on the machines they purchase. It seems that in this scenario the digital lock ends up not protecting copyright but rather shackling the purchaser and owner of the device.