Content creators and copyright owners are hoping to change the Copyright Modernization Act to be more to their liking as it goes to a parliamentary committee.
Bill C-32 passed second reading in the House of Commons Nov. 5 and has been passed on to committee for debate. At issue are the bill’s protection of digital locks, which can be used to prevent a consumer from copying a DVD to a computer, for example. The bill also excludes the collection of a levy to compensate creators and copyright owners for the legitimate copying of their works.
The bill is the third attempt by the Conservative government to update Canada’s copyright law. It follows a series of public consultations held over the summer of 2009 by Industry Minister Tony Clement and Heritage Minister James Moore.
C-32’s digital locks provision is a central element of the bill and those who argue against it are wrong, Moore said in the House during question period.
“If people want to hack around that or break a digital lock without that person’s (a creator’s) consent, that person has the right to protect his or her own intellectual property,” he says. “It should be illegal for one to hack somebody else’s property and to steal it and put it onto BitTorrent and spam it around the Internet and degrade people’s capacity to actually make a living on what they are doing.”
Moore earlier this year described critics of the bill as “radical extremists” and accused them of being “babyish” in their defence of consumers’ rights.
Having digital locks protected is important for Canadian television and film producers, says Stephen Ellis, president & CEO of Toronto-based Ellis Entertainment. He points to the U.S. and the U.K. as examples of where digital locks have worked well.
“It comes down to giving a producer of a work who’s gone out and spent a lot of money on spending a lot of money on an original work and giving them the power on how it should be made available to audiences around the world,” he says. “The way you make sure you have that measure of control is through having a digital lock.”
Artists who choose to give content away for free or generate money from advertising are welcome to do so, he adds. But an option to protect a work from being copied freely should be available to those who want to see their work.
Without it, money going into content creation will steadily decline “until we’re all producing for YouTube wit our prosumer cameras and it will be embarrassing for everyone,” Ellis says.
Also to be debated at committee is the idea of extending the levy currently paid on blank CDs and audio cassettes to digital recording devices such as iPods. The Canadian Private Copying Collective (CPCC) currently collects $0.24 per cassette and $0.29 per blank CD. The CPCC and 19 arts organizations sent a joint letter to Ministers Clement and Moore asking for compensation when works are copied onto digital devices.
“The way the bill is written, we could never again be compensated for these copies, we don’t think that’s fair,” says David Basskin, a director with the CPCC. “We’re really at a loss to understand the capacity of the Conservative party to hate people who make art.”
The CPCC has disseminated about $200 million over 10 years to copyright owners, song writers, qualifying performers and makers of recordings, Basskin says. Money is divvied up based on air play and sales figures for songs. Some of that money goes to foreign owners of copyrighted works.
Bloc Québécois MP Carole Lavallée defended the concept of levies for copying works in question period on Friday. “Not having these royalties is like depriving artistic creativity of oxygen,” she said. “Artists will no longer earn enough to continue doing what they do.”
Basskin not only wants the copying levy extended in the bill, but for other amendments to be made at committee. The exemptions for making a copy of a work are too far reaching, he says.
“The bill savagely carves up the rights of creators and does nothing to address piracy,” he says. “They are demolishing markets that are necessary to provide the economic engine that allows creators to create.”
Digital locks aren’t used on music recordings, Basskin says, so that provision isn’t of concern to the CPCC. Ellis also feels the bill is “pretty porous” and there’s “some tightening that needs to be done” in committee, such as better defining the exemption for educational purposes.
While the Conservatives support digital locks, the NDP and Bloc Quebecois are clearly against it and the Liberals have expressed a desire to find a better solution.
University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist has a more in-depth breakdown of the party’s positions on his blog.
As for extending the copying levee, the NDP and the Bloc have supported it in the House of Commons. The Conservatives are clearly against it.