13 June 2008

More Unspeakable Acts

Michael Geist has been warning about this for a while, and now the beast is out:

Today the Government of Canada introduced long-overdue and much-needed amendments to the Copyright Act that will bring it in line with advances in technology and current international standards.

"Our government has committed to ensuring Canada's copyright law is up to date, and today we are delivering by introducing this "made-in-Canada" bill that balances the interests of Canadians who use digital technology and those who create content," said the Honourable Jim Prentice, Minister of Industry. "It's a win-win approach because we're ensuring that Canadians can use digital technologies at home with their families, at work, or for educational and research purposes. We are also providing new rights and protections for Canadians who create the content and who want to better secure their work online."

The phrase "made-in-Canada" would be funny if it weren't so pathetic: this bill has been dictated down to the last comma by Hollywood, and it would be hard to imagine anything less "made-in-Canada". Moreover, despite the misleading stuff about "win-win", this is simply a loss for Canadians, as Geist explains:

1. As expected, Prentice has provided a series of attention-grabbing provisions to consumers including time shifting, private copying of music (transferring a song to your iPod), and format shifting (changing format from analog to digital). These are good provisions that did not exist in the delayed December bill. However, check the fine print since the rules are subject to a host of strict limitations and, more importantly, undermined by the digital lock provisions. The effect of the digital lock provisions is to render these rights virtually meaningless in the digital environment because anything that is locked down (ie. copy-controlled CD, no-copy mandate on a digital television broadcast) cannot be copied. As for every day activities like transferring a DVD to your iPod - those are infringing too. Indeed, the law makes it an infringement to circumvent the locks for these purposes.

2. The digital lock provisions are worse than the DMCA. Yes - worse. The law creates a blanket prohibition on circumvention with very limited exceptions and creates a ban against distributing the tools that can be used to circumvent. While Prentice could have adopted a more balanced approach (as New Zealand and Canada's Bill C-60 did), the effect of these provisions will be to make Canadians infringers for a host of activities that are common today including watching out-of-region-coded DVDs, copying and pasting materials from a DRM'd book, or even unlocking a cellphone.

While that is the similar to the U.S. law, the exceptions are worse. The Canadian law includes a few limited exceptions for privacy, encryption research, interoperable computer programs, people with sight disabilities, and security, yet Canadians can't actually use these exceptions since the tools needed to pick the digital lock in order to protect their privacy are banned. In other words, check the fine print again - you can protect your privacy but the tools to do so are now illegal. Dig deeper and it gets worse. Under the U.S. law, there is mandatory review process every three years to identify new exceptions. Under the Canadian law, its up to the government to introduce new exceptions if it thinks it is needed. Overall, these anti-circumvention provisions go far beyond what is needed to comply with the WIPO Internet treaties and represents an astonishing abdication of the principles of copyright balance that have guided Canadian policy for many years.

So far, so bad - and pretty much expected. But what struck me was the following gratuitous comment at the end of the press release:

These amendments to the Copyright Act are part of the government's broader intellectual property strategy, which includes the recent amendments to the Criminal Code to combat movie piracy and the announcement that Canada will work with other international trading partners towards a possible Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA).

In other words, all this stuff is just a prelude to the even more Draconian, even less democratic ACTA which is beetling towards us. Time to start protesting, people....


Leslie P. Polzer said...

Unspeakable indeed.

But the digital millenium will roll on and over governments and corporations, copywrong acts or not.

Glyn Moody said...

True, but it would be nice if it came sooner, rather than later, and without the digital martyrs along the way....