Feds bring back copyright reform, and with digital locks

The federal government is attempting to reform Canada’s copyright laws yet again, introducing legislation that will make it illegal for users to break the digital locks placed on the software and media files they purchase.

The new Copyright Modernization Act bill is identical to the previously tabled Bill C-32, introduced last year when the Conservatives held a minority government. That copyright reform legislation, died earlier this year before the federal election.

Industry Minister Christian Paradis argued that Canadians have given government a strong mandate to ensure the country’s digital economy remains strong, while also balancing the interests of consumers with the rights of content creators. The industry minister added that the emergence of social networking sites, smart phones and tablets have changed the way Canadians use copyrighted material

“Canadians will soon have modern copyright laws that protect and help create jobs, promote innovation, and attract new investment to Canada,” Paradis said in a statement. “We are confident that this bill will make Canada’s copyright laws forward-looking and responsive in this fast-paced digital world.”

The most controversial piece of the bill is the digital locks rule, which makes it illegal to copy or back-up media that have been outfitted with a DRM (digital rights management) lock.

For example, if a consumer breaks the digital encryption on a DVD, video game, e-book or mp3 file – even for personal use or to back-up their media – that user will be liable for damages of up to $5,000.

Under the new bill, users can record TV and Internet broadcasts, copy songs they have purchased, back-up media, create parodies or satire under fair dealing and create user-generated content for non-commercial purposes.

But, they would not be able to exercise these rights if doing so required the circumvention or breaking of a digital lock.

Many government observers believe the latest copyright reform bill will pass before the end of the year.

One such observer is also Canada’s most public opponent of the bill, University of Ottawa professor and notable Internet law blogger Michael Geist.

“When Bill C-32 was introduced in June 2010, I described it as ‘flawed but fixable’, noting that there was a lot to like in the bill but that the digital lock provisions constituted a glaring problem that undermined much of the attempt to strike a balance,” he wrote on his personal blog. “Months later, those remain my views. The bill has some good provisions, but the unwillingness to budge on digital locks – even as the U.S. has created new exceptions – is easily its biggest flaw.”

For Geist, the bill is a mixed bag, offering up Canadians some positive reforms in the areas of fair dealing, education use and non-commercial mashups.

But for all that is good in the bill, he said, the majority of new provisions and protections for consumers and educators are undermined by the digital locks rule.

“Even the U.S. offers more flexibility than Canada, with an exception for DVD circumvention in some circumstances and a mandatory review of the digital lock rules every three years,” he wrote.

The stiff digital locks rule, Geist argued, is primarily about satisfying U.S. pressure. This pressure is not a secret, he said, “with criticism of past bills and regular demands for action on copyright in return for progress on other border and trade issues.”

Of course, not everybody is against the new bill.

Karna Gupta, president and CEO of ITAC, said the government’s bill contains the “right elements for a balanced copyright regime.” Under current copyright laws, he argued, Canada has not been a welcoming environment for content creators to operate and invest in.

While music downloads, digital books and software sales are booming, he said, much of the content available to consumers is not being created in Canada.

As for the digital locks rule, ITAC does not believe its inclusion negates the balanced approach of the bill.

“By and large, this does create a balanced environment,” said Bill Munson, vice-president of policy at ITAC. “Companies are able to give their customers a workaround for whatever digital locks they provide.”

Munson added that the focus of the government seems to be on enforcing the digital locks rule for commercial scale offenders. “You can see it in some of the choices they’ve made in wording,” he said.

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