Canada's government calls its new copyright bill “a common sense balance between the interests of consumers and the rights of the creative community,” but initial response to the legislation was tepid at best.
Long awaited, the new bill drew fire for the inclusion of a provision to make individual Canadians liable for fines of up to $5,000 for breaking the digital locks that protect music, movies or software from copying—even if it's done for personal use. That decision caused observers like University of Ottawa professor Michael Geist, Canada's leading internet law pundit, to call the legislation flawed.
Ivor Tossell, technology columnist for the Globe and Mail newspaper, was even more pointed, writing that the law doesn't make sense.
Consumer advocates complained that, while the proposed law allows consumers to legally copy sound recordings and television programs for personal use—and even permits YouTube “mashups”—it gives the ultimate power to copyright holders.
The welter of criticism forced federal industry minister Tony Clement into defensive mode. Answering media questions in Toronto, he argued that the new legislation would allow Canadians quicker access to new technologies. He insisted that the new law would be “neutral” on the question of digital locks.
Tossell responded that leaving the option up to creators would rule out the concept of “fair dealing.”
Fair dealing—unrestricted use of copyrighted material for educational purposes, research or review—was one area that the new legislation was meant to address, updating the law that has been in place since 1997. Under the proposed legislation, the digital lock provision would trump even existing exemptions, resulting in an overall tougher set of restrictions. The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), which represents some 65,000 members, said this would limit the access of professors and students.
“By imposing a blanket provision against all circumvention, the government will lock down a vast amount of digital material, effectively preventing its use for research, education and innovation, and curtailing the user rights of Canadians,” the association warned.
The CAUT and other critics say that the legislation shows that the Canadian government has caved in to pressure from the United States and European countries to align Canada's copyright law with international treaties. During national consultations, there were calls for a made-in-Canada approach to copyright, and entreaties to reject rigid protection for digital locks.
In addition to the fines for breaking digital locks for noncommercial use, the bill also proposes fines of up to $1 million for pirates who circumvent encryption of material in order to re-sell it. It also sets out provisions to shut down sites that support file-sharing, and introduces a legal avenue for content creators to seek civil redress from online piracy sites that “enable” copyright infringement.
Tabled in Parliament in early June, the new legislation replaces a previous bill that died when a federal election was called in 2008. With a minority government in place, the new copyright bill could suffer the same fate. It will be debated when Parliament reconvenes in late September. The major opposition parties have stated they will not vote for the legislation without significant changes.