Opinions

Proposed intellectual property laws too restrictive

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In 2008, Canadians across the country continued to freely and legally pick digital locks on electronic media as the much-criticized Bill C-61 on copyright reform was tabled.

The bill died when parliament dissolved later that year, signaling a federal election, and the Conservatives vowed to resurrect C-61 if reelected. This past summer, nationwide consultation brought optimism as to what this new bill might look like. Voters across the country advocated for flexible laws to address the concerns that led to protests during then-Industry Minister Jim Prentice's annual Stampede Pancake Breakfast in 2008.

The problem with C-61 was that it would have made it illegal to circumvent digital locks. This means any digitally encrypted electronic files would be illegal to copy, as protection of digital locks supersedes even legal fair dealing uses such as research or private study.

Following the consultation, two plans were proposed. Industry Minister Tony Clement suggested reform that would be flexible in terms of digital lock circumvention, which was in line with the feedback gathered during the consultation. Heritage Minister James Moore proposed what copyright blogger and internet law expert Michael Geist calls a rehash of Bill C-61.

While the full details of the new bill have yet to be revealed, Geist reported it would take a form similar to C-61, with little or no implementation of the summer consultation recommendations. This follows and seems to confirm reports from early this month that Prime Minister Stephen Harper had rejected Clement's proposal to implement the consultation recommendations in favour of Moore's rehashed C-61.

The rationale behind the proposed bill is to bring Canada in line with the International Property Organization's intellectual property treaties. But Geist believes this can be achieved without taking the heavy-handed approach of the pervasive Digital Millennium Copyright Act of the United States that the forthcoming bill -- in this and its previous incarnation -- is so often compared to. Specifically, Geist says we can get around this by simply making it legal to circumvent digital locks when using the material for purposes that wouldn't ordinarily be considered a violation of copyright, i.e., when used under the provisions laid out in fair dealing.

Though the proposal promises to correct some of the more counterintuitive aspects of current law, such as making format shifting -- such as ripping a CD onto a computer for transfer to an MP3 player -- legal, it doesn't do enough to address the reality of an era with a growing trend toward the use of digital media. This is unacceptable and would rank Canada alongside the United States as having the most stringent copyright laws in the world. Beyond that, the changes are widely believed to be unenforceable, and seem largely supported by interest groups, rather than the majority of Canadians.

Clement has admitted to be among those ordinary Canadians made criminals by current legislation, and if the new bill shapes up as expected, we can rest assured the cadre of criminals will grow to include everyday students, journalists, researchers and documentary filmmakers.

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