Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore slammed critics of his copyright reform bill on Tuesday, calling them “radical extremists” who are trying to “drum up fear” about the proposed bill.
Moore was speaking in front of an audience of business leaders at the Toronto Board of Trade, and hosting the Paris-based International Chamber of Commerce for a discussion about protecting intellectual property.
The minister didn’t mince words. In a few broad strokes, he painted critics of Bill C-32’s digital locks protections as unqualified and dishonest. “There are those who pretend to be for copyright reform but don’t believe in actual copyright reform.”
The bill is Canada’s third attempt to update its Copyright Act since it was last done in 1997, which pre-dates iPods and digital video recorders. The bill makes it illegal to break digital locks – also called technological protection measures – save for a few exceptions.
Opposition parties, such as the NDP and the Liberal Party, have voiced concern about this provision in the press. Other critics of the provision include consumer group Canadian Consumer Initiative and Michael Geist, Canada’s Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law based at the University of Ottawa.
“Don’t let those … who pretend to be experts on copyright reform put a smiley, shiney, cute face on what is actually a pretty disingenuous campaign to undermine the property rights of individual citizens to invest in their creative goods,” Moore told the audience. “If they do speak up, we need to confront them.”
Critics voicing their views on Facebook and Twitter should be confronted, as must those speaking through talk shows and newspaper articles, he added.
Digital locks give content publishers the ability to prevent format shifting of their products. Consumers who want to transfer a DVD to a computer could be stymied by such measures.
Moore’s uncompromising stance in his description of opponents is the wrong approach, Geist says.
“It feels like a punch in the gut to a lot of Canadians who’ve been actively participating in the copyright debate,” he tells ITBusiness.ca. “To suggest that some reforms are not legitimate and are attempts to mislead is wrong and inappropriate.”
The copyright bill is a balanced approach informed by last summer’s copyright consultations, Moore said. The government isn’t imposing digital locks on anything, but giving copyright holders a way to protect their work.
“They have a right to protect their intellectual property,” he says. “Those who try to hack around those digital protections, those people can’t do that, that’s not allowed.”
When asked if the Conservative Party was flexible on the digital locks provision, Moore said that opposition parties haven’t raised the issue in the form of an amendment to the bill or a question in parliament. But he stopped short of completely shutting the door on the issue.
“If there’s something that comes up at parliamentary committee … then we’ll certainly consider it,” he says. “But so far the opposition has said nothing.”
Critics who seem to pick out a couple of areas of the copyright bill that need revision are just creating a ruse, Moore said.
“They will find any excuse to oppose this bill, to drum up fear, to mislead, to misdirect, to push people in the wrong direction,” he said. “They dress up the fact they don’t believe in copyright reform at all.”
But critics such as the Retail Council of Canada and several educational groups do support much of the proposed legislation, Geist says. Attempts to address the digital locks provisions are genuine.
“I was supportive of much of the legislation,” he says. “To try and tar attempts to fix the bill, so say they are efforts to undermine and mislead, I don’t think is the right way forward.”
‘Notice and notice’ system slammed
Digital locks aren’t the only provision of Bill C-32 coming under fire. Sylvie Forbin, vice-president of public and European affairs at Paris-based Vivideni spoke out against the bill’s “notice and notice” system for warning copyright infringers.
Canada’s Internet service providers currently pass on copyright infringement claims from industry groups to their customers. The customer’s identity is protected from the complainant, and their access to the Internet is not affected. But in France, there is a “three strikes” system where a habitual copyright infringement offender could face fines or loss of Internet service.
Bill C-32 keeps Canada’s notice system at status quo. That’s not good enough, according to Forbin, who described it as “a little backward.”
“When you receive a message and that’s all, there’s no reason to stop,” she says. “If there is no punishment, no fine, or no threat of suspension, the impact will be lowered.”
Moore reiterated his position for the notice and notice system in his speech to the business crowd, adding it was a measure to protect the rights of consumers.
Geist voiced his support for notice and notice as well, referring to one study that showed 70 per cent of Canadians would take down material after receiving a copyright infringement notice.
“I was supportive of Minister Moore in his comments that’s not a direction he wants Canada to move in,” he says.
Bill C-32 will be sent to a committee for debate when Parliament resumes after its summer break.