Has Canada’s copyright saga ended on a good note?

14 Mar

Canada’s copyright reform legislation, Bill C-11, is now in the stretch run, having completed its requisite tour of duty through parliamentary committee. It’s now being sent back to Parliament for its third reading, after which it’ll be voted on and passed by the Conservative majority. With a Senate reading and royal assent afterward, it should finally become law this spring.

In the end, C-11 is looking like a good-news, bad-news situation. The bad news is, the government has willfully ignored the concerns of thousands of Canadians – not to mention librarians, educators, retailers, artists and others – over the legislation’s digital lock clause, which will make it illegal to crack technical protection measures on content and devices.

The issue has long been the sticking point for the general public, since it’s essentially a “super-clause” that can trump all the bill’s other positives. While things like format shifting and the sort of mash-ups that YouTube is known for will now be expressly permitted and protected by law, that won’t necessarily be the case if a technology or entertainment company can prove that a digital lock was broken in doing so. Beyond that, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has a good summary of how else the super-clause will be bad for Canada.

Given the content companies’ behaviour over the past few years, both south of the border with efforts such as the Stop Online Piracy Act and in Canada, it’s a fair bet they’re going to try to wield their new super-clause like a hammer. The countdown for the first lawsuits will soon begin.

Critics, including opposition parties, had suggested a slight amendment that would have linked the breaking of digital locks to willful copyright infringement. In other words, if you cracked a lock on a device or piece of content for your own personal use, you’d be fine, but if you did so with the intent of distributing such goods or somehow profiting from the act, you’d be fair game for the tech and entertainment companies.

It was a reasonable compromise from the consumer’s perspective, but not so for the industry, which successfully convinced the government that proving such infringement would make enforcing the locks considerably more difficult.

The good news is that there are a host of exemptions where breaking a digital lock is permitted, such as when companies or individuals are trying to test a particular technology’s security (what are the Vegas odds on a file sharer trying that excuse in court?). Moreover, the government can add exemptions later as it sees fit, which will hopefully prevent egregious efforts to bash people with the super-clause hammer. If a record label, for example, tries to do something stupid like prevent its CDs from being copied, the government could step in and exempt that particular crack.

One other bonus is that the legislation will be reviewed every five years. There will doubtlessly be a host of studies done over this time to determine the various effects the new laws are having, which should shed some light on what’s working and what isn’t. In a nutshell, there will be the opportunity to fine tune things.

Perhaps the biggest good news for every-day people from this whole affair is that, just as the government ignored the public on the locks issue, it also willfully ignored industry lobbyists on some of their bigger demands. As University of Ottawa professor Michael Geist has pointed over the past few weeks, entertainment companies have been lobbying (and still are) for stricter rules, such as making third-party websites liable for copyright infringement, the sacking of the YouTube clause, the imposition of an “iPod” copying tax and a whole host of other measures.

With the committee phase done, the government stuck to its guns and ceded very little ground to these companies potential additions, putting forward only some minor amendments. From the consumer’s perspective, that’s commendable.

Geist pointed out the amazing irony of all of this in a column for the Ottawa Citizen on Tuesday. Heritage Minister James Moore has gone to great pains during this long, drawn-out process of repeatedly mentioning (and tweeting) how much support Bill C-11 has had from industry, yet he also once referred to the most vocal opponents as “radical extremists.”

In the end, the general public supported more of C-11 – with the exception of the locks clause – than the entertainment companies did. Hopefully that bodes well for the future and is not lost on the government, because it’s a little clearer now who the “radical extremists” are.


Posted by on March 14, 2012 in copyright


4 responses to “Has Canada’s copyright saga ended on a good note?

  1. Marc Venot

    March 14, 2012 at 1:01 am

    Nintendo and Sony have already a bad reputation about those locks (proprietary cards for example). What would be interesting is the opinion of two of the largest players, Google and Microsoft, who have been rather supportive of the open projects if they push toward more repression.
    If not then we will have to wait to go on the bandwagon of the inexpensive devices provided by the UN to the third world mass population.

  2. Chris C.

    March 14, 2012 at 10:12 am

    Has Canada’s copyright saga ended on a good note? You must be kidding!

    This copyright war on people has gotten most (90% – I’m not making this up, just check online polls and comments) of all the ordinary citizens who informed themselves on the issue, very, very upset and I seriously doubt the rest of the population who hasn’t gotten informed on the issue will follow these laws when they get enacted, just like most people don’t respect unreasonable speed limits: The provisions of these new bills are simply too outrageous for any reasonable human being to follow.

    If Big Media and Big Government follow up on their war against ordinary citizens, ordinary citizens will bankrupt the former and give the boot to the latter. There is only so much you can squeeze from the population.

    Like I said before, I am so deeply offended by the despicable behaviour of these greedy bastards (I find no other words to describe these criminal organizations) that my family and I have stopped going to movie theatres altogether and won’t buy a single CD or DVD anymore, unless it sold by the artist directly, and we won’t come back until the leeches at the head of the MAFIAA and the CRIA get the boot and laws are enacted that makes it illegal for this mafia to blackmail governments and manipulate democratic rights like they have been doing for so long.


    So far, we have heard very little from most of the population, who haven’t followed this issue and naively believe nothing could ever happen to them. Just you wait until they get served with 100K$ lawsuits from these sharks. Only then will we have a revolution on our hands.

    The government believes the new prisons are needed to house the newly criminalized ordinary citizens these laws will create? Maybe they aren’t such a bad idea… To house them and their industry buddies who pay their fat campaign contributions…

    • russellmcormond

      March 15, 2012 at 7:35 am

      The Bill C-11 committee saga did end on an “it could have been much worse” note. While the worst part of the bill, the anti-competitive and anti-property rights technological measures component, remains intact the government did reject most of the proposed amendments that would have made the bill even worse.

      I attended nearly all C-32 and C-11 committee meetings in person, and was live-tweeting and then blogging them – interesting stuff for sure, but while it was called a study it wasn’t anything remotely like a scientific or academic style study. It was more like a courtroom TV drama where you had “government” witnesses and “opposition” witnesses. Unfortunately under a majority government it meant that the Conservatives were prosecution, jury and judge, and other than convincing the Conservatives of the error in their ways there couldn’t have been any impact of the process.

      I wrote early that I thought the Conservatives were right on the copyright parts of the bill, but were wrong on the non-copyright parts of the bill. I believe the official opposition NDP were right on the non-copyright parts of the bill and overall cultural policy, but were wrong on the copyright parts of the bill

      I urge people to look deeper into this issue and notice that the content industry (MAFIAA and the CRIA as titled above) are only pawns in a much larger game being played by technology companies. They are noisy and annoying pawns who could care less about your rights and interests, but they have also been bamboozled by the tech companies into fighting against their own interests. While you may refuse to access content from specific sources, until people stop buying technology from the companies behind these worst of these laws any consumer boycott will be meaningless. The targets should be companies like Apple, Sony, Microsoft (for the technological measures stuff in C-11), Bell, Rogers (for other harmful ties between tech and content in Canada), etc — not the entertainment industry.

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