Geof Glass: How Canada's new copyright law will affect you

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      By Geof Glass

      Canada is about to reform its copyright law. Our government is holding a public consultation, and we need to be involved.

      Big media companies are pushing hard to make more activity illegal and to institute extraordinarily harsh penalties. They want your Internet provider to spy on your private communications to make sure you aren’t sharing anything you shouldn’t. They want to terminate your Internet access on the basis of mere accusations of infringement—with no need to prove you did anything wrong. They want to outlaw DVD players capable of playing legally purchased movies from Asia, Europe, or South America. They would allow teachers to critique popular culture without asking for permission—but then force them to destroy the lesson materials, and ensure that all students’ copies are also destroyed.

      This is not hyperbole. In the United States, many of these measures are already a reality. Amazon sells electronic books. It went into customers’ e-book readers and deleted books they had paid for. Copyright law was on Amazon’s side: not because the customers had done anything wrong, but because Amazon manufactured the readers. One of the books? George Orwell’s 1984.

      An American woman was recently fined $1.9 million for sharing 24 of her favourite songs on-line. The response of the Department of Justice? That the judgement was not “disproportionate to the offense”. Bankers who have cost the economy trillions receive bonuses, while file-sharers are driven to bankruptcy. U.S. copyright law has suffered regulatory capture by media and technology behemoths. The U.S. in turn has threatened Canada with non-cooperation on trade unless we follow its lead on copyright.

      Many of these measures were proposed in Bill C-61, introduced in Parliament last year. When Canadians found out what was happening, tens of thousands wrote to their MPs. Appropriation Art, an artists’ group, described the bill as “censorship”. Documentary filmmakers said that the law would block them from commenting on aspects of our politics and culture. Hundreds of Canadian musicians, who had already broken with the American-led Canadian Recording Industry Association over this issue, responded that they saw nothing in this bill for them.

      Following the unexpected resistance to C-61, the Canadian government decided to ask Canadians what kind of copyright we want. Until September 13, the government is holding public consultations about what should be in the new law.

      This law will affect you. It will shape the kind of society and culture you live in. It will effect fees of up to 25 cents a page to be paid by students to study their own culture (American law exempts educational use). It will determine whether we get to decide how we use our cellphones and our computers, or whether manufacturers can dictate exactly what we can and cannot do—regardless of whether it has anything to do with copyright. It will determine whether artists need permission before they make political and social comment on our society.

      All the evidence from around the world is that draconian copyright laws do not work. They fail to stop freeloaders. But they are devastatingly effective at restricting artists and innovators—because they operate in the public eye. People see this. When they see copyright blocking the creativity it is supposed to promote, they lose respect for the law. For copyright law to be effective, it must be respected. To be respected, it must be fair.

      I am a member of the Vancouver Fair Copyright Coalition. We want a fair law that benefits all Canadians—artists, innovators, educators, citizens, consumers. At, you can find more details. You can download a guide that makes it easy to write a submission reflecting your interests. Please participate in the consultation. Please help our government write a good law.

      Geof Glass is a PhD student studying communication at Simon Fraser University, and a professional software developer.




      Aug 17, 2009 at 8:15pm

      It would have been nice had you written in speciific english having quoted chapter and verse; instead of blah blah blah; the sky is falling; could be; certainly do not know from what is written here.


      Aug 17, 2009 at 10:41pm

      @Thanker: The law and the proposals for change are incredibly complex - too complex to fit in a short article like this. (The complexity itself is a serious problem in a law intended to regulate the behavior of ordinary people on a daily basis.) But I take your point. Check out the faircopy web site for some more information and links to other sites. Start with the consultation guide and the article on digital locks and anticircumvention here:

      Anticircumvention provisions would cause the problems with cell phones, DVDs, and the Kindle cited in the article.

      Under C-61, the penalty for circumvention tops out at $20,000 (the $500 cap does not apply). If you circumvent a digital lock to copy a CD worth of music (say 12 songs) to your iPod, it appears you could be liable for $240,000 - even though you own the CD, and did not share the music with anyone. Each song actually typically has three copyright holders, so I believe that number should probably be more like $720,000. But then I am not a lawyer, and even the Minister responsible did not seem to understand this bill.


      Aug 17, 2009 at 10:51pm

      I will expand on a couple of more items in the article.

      Appropriation artists take elements and images from popular culture and use them to produce new art or messages - collage for example, or Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup cans. Though it might be legal for them to use certain materials (clips of text, images, sound, video, and so on), the manner in which they obtained them could be outlawed. For example, an artist who wishes to use a clip from a film whose copyright has expired would be permitted to film it off a screen. But under anticircumvention law, copying it from a DVD could be against the law. As more and more of our culture is digital, more and more of it could become off-limits to artists. The same applies to documentary filmmakers.

      For education, U.S. law has the doctrine of Fair Use. This permits broad educational use of cultural and intellectual materials. In Canada we have Fair Dealing. The exemption for education only permits private study. This does not include use by teachers or in classrooms. Canadian institutions must pay license fees to copyright collectives like Access Copyright, which permits access only to works covered by the collective. These fees can be extremely high - I have paid $170 for courseware containing poor-quality photocopies. C-61 included a provision to allow broader use, but with the caveat that educators must ensure lessons using copyrighted materials are comprehensively destroyed after the end of the course (Bill C-61, section 18). The collectives have been widely criticized for failing to be transparent, and there are questions about how much of the money actually makes it to creators (I spoke to a world-famous professor with several widely-cited books: in his case, the answer was “none”).

      We believe that the circumvention of digital locks should only be illegal if it is for purposes of copyright infringement. Legitimate activities, like the work of artists, should not be made illegal solely because there happens to be a digital lock. We also support flexible fair dealing, along with specific exemptions for any educational use, for parody, and for satire. (Jon Stewart’s Daily Show would likely be illegal if made in Canada because his use of news clips would constitute infringement - and good luck getting permission from the rightsholders.)


      Aug 17, 2009 at 11:03pm

      this article is very much clear and to the point to me...


      Aug 17, 2009 at 11:43pm

      these draconian and irrational laws won't stand up; if the government tries to pass a set of laws like this, it will be torn down as it will unite the left. the copyright people don't get it; if they keep pushing these measures, they're going to start a civil war. look at the electoral response in sweden and europe, which is becoming a threat to the establishment. copyright is obsolete. they need to deal with this; if they can't, they need to be forcefully shut down and if it's not going to be down with laws it's going to be done with pitchforks. as for harper, he seems to only have one goal - power for the sake of power. he's not gong to throw it all away over something trivial like this. so, relax; if harper loses his mind in some kind of fit of insanity and allows the bill to get through, it'll only be around until the next election and then when the law is overturned the judge will probably even award YOU a settlement for having to deal with the government's short sighted stupidity.

      Eduard-Henri Avril

      Aug 18, 2009 at 2:34am

      This is very serious news for Telecommunications providers being asked to spy on their customers.

      If I found out that my private life was being spied on by my internet provider - lawsuit or not - I would hypothetically take names, numbers, and home addresses. That would just be the tip of the Hindenburg.

      You spy on me - I spy on you. Quid pro quo.

      George Roundbelly

      Aug 18, 2009 at 4:16am

      We already pay a fee on every DVD and CD ,system works ok. We have "artis" that are getting paid that would never be able to sell more than a dozen cd's. This is a civil matter and turning it into a crime is sick and needs to be fought. Letting any company use law to control people is wrong.


      Aug 18, 2009 at 4:25am

      This is inciting revolt.


      Aug 18, 2009 at 6:18am

      "" if the government tries to pass a set of laws like this, it will be torn down as it will unite the left.""

      I wouldnt hold your breath. Look at all the anti-smoking laws that were put in place regardless of the effects on businesses, sure ppl cried the blues, but more self centered political A holes cried louder and won. If they decide something is in thier best intrests, all the bitching in the world wont stop it.


      Aug 18, 2009 at 6:25am

      I had an after thought after posting, im sure one of the factors holding this back from just being implement for the good of our nation is that they cant tie it to orginized crime! :)
      Im sure if they could say HA or some other biker gang is running the MP3 Ring or that they are responsible for recording and releasing the crappy cammed movies that "they" claim is ruining the movie industry. Or hey, maybe say the chinnese extacy is funding copyright infringment, that would pass this damn fast! Seems to be the trend in this country.