Since the Federal Government revealed their amendments to the Copyright laws last Thursday, I've been trying to wrap my head around what it all means to the average (or not so average) consumer in Canada. I have one word for the whole thing: clusterf*ck. Harsh? Probably. Accurate? Probably. The new laws are a bit of a mind bender, so grab a beverage and a snack, make yourself comfy, and let's try and make some sense of what the government wants to do.
Bill C-61 is a set of amendments to the Copyright Act, ratifiying the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Copyright Treaty in a similar manner the United States did in 1996 with their Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). These amendments are the followup to the announcement made in the 2007 Speech from the Throne, where the government promised to bring the current Copyright Act up to speed with the digital media world. While many within the media industry believe that these amendments are long overdue, others see this as the result of a not so quiet campaign by the Americans to bring Canada into step with their own digital copyright model, considered one of the toughest in the world. Michael Geist has a very interesting point of view on this in an article dated June 16th in the Toronto Star:
The public campaign was obvious. U.S. ambassador to Canada David Wilkins was outspoken on the copyright issue, characterizing Canadian copyright law as the weakest in the G7 (despite the World Economic Forum ranking it ahead of the U.S.). The U.S. Trade Representatives Office (USTR) made Canada a fixture on its Special 301 Watch list, an annual compilation of countries the U.S. believes have sub-standard intellectual property laws. The full list contains nearly 50 countries accounting for 4.4 billion people or approximately 70 per cent of the world's population.
Most prominently, last year U.S. senators Dianne Feinstein and John Cornyn, along with California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, escalated the rhetoric on Canadian movie piracy, leading to legislative reform that took just three weeks to complete. The private campaign was even more important. Sources say that U.S. officials, emboldened by the successful campaign for anti-camcording legislation, upped the ante at the Security and Prosperity Partnership meeting in Quebec last summer. Canadian officials arrived ready to talk about a series of economic concerns but were quickly rebuffed by their U.S. counterparts, who indicated that progress on other issues would depend upon action on the copyright file. Those demands were echoed earlier by the USTR, which, according to documents obtained under the Access to Information Act, made veiled threats about "thickening the border" between Canada and the U.S. if Canada refused to put copyright reform on the legislative agenda.
But on the other hand, some in the industry are applauding the amendments. According to a press release dated June 12th, the Canadian Intellectual Property Council is "pleased to support the overall principles of Bill C-61". According to the CIPC, the new law is a good idea because:
It is also essential that the federal government strengthen the current legislative framework by: clearly stipulating trade-mark counterfeiting as a specific criminal offence under the Trade-marks Act; amending the Criminal Code to criminalize intentional possession of counterfeit goods for thepurpose of sale. Law enforcement agencies and prosecutors also need better laws that provide a greater ability to combat product counterfeiting and piracy. Customs officials need to have new powers, and the associated additional resources, to search suspected shipments for
counterfeit goods at the border and to communicate with intellectual property
rights holders to allow for effective criminal, civil and/or administrative
enforcement and deterrence against distribution of counterfeit and pirated products.
One of the major concerns is that violators could be struck with massive fines, from $500 for downloading a file to $20000 for distributing a file. While this may appear that the bill gives facility to the Industry to sue any and all violators, but some industry insiders see it differently. In a Reuters story dated June 12th, the President of the Canadian Independent Record Production Association, Duncan McKie claims:
"We're not that concerned about people in their basements sharing a few files here and there. Obviously to pursue those people would be very difficult and very expensive."
"We'd only be concerned with the most egregious violators, people who try to make a business out of the trade and infringement of materials"
So what's in store for media users in Canada? Here's a quick rundown:
- You can copy music once from an unprotected CD to your iPod or Computer, as long as you're the owner of the device and the CD. You cannot copy borrowed or rented materials
- You can copy a book, magazine or newspaper that you've purchased, but you can't distribute the copies.
- You can record television shows on a personal recorder, but you cannot create a library by storing them for an extended period of time.
- You cannot copy music and give it to someone else. (in other words, Operation Disc Drop could be considered illegal)
- You cannot make more than one copy or recording of a television show.
- You cannot break through the digital locks on any media to access the protected content, unless you are disabled or an "encryption researcher".
- You cannot provide the tools used to circumnavigate digital locks on copyright protected material.
Since the House is scheduled to go on Summer break shortly, we won't see much progression on this Bill over the next few months. In the meantime, let the government know what you think about this new bill, by contacting Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Minister of Industry Jim Prentice and your local Member of Parliament.
Let us know what you think about these proposed amendments. Do you love them? Hate them? We're going to stay on top of this, and we'll bring you updates in the coming months.