Canadian copyright bill opens up debate on digital locks

    1 of 2 2 of 2

      Hart Snider is carefully watching the debate around Bill C-32, the Stephen Harper government’s latest attempt at copyright reform. The Vancouver-based filmmaker and remix artist is worried about provisions in the proposed Copyright Modernization Act that would protect digital locks. He says these provisions would criminalize the way many Canadians use digital media, such as music, movies, and e-books.

      During an interview at a Downtown Eastside café, Snider scrolled through his video résumé on his laptop. Over the years, he has made dozens of video mashups using footage of iconic moments in popular culture and obscure audio samples. A lot of copyrighted material has passed through Snider’s hard drive. He knows that without access to that content his remixes wouldn’t exist.

      “This digital-lock thing is really complicated,” Snider told the Georgia Straight. “If you are not allowed to pull from it [digital media], you are limiting our potential as artists.”

      Changes to bring Canada’s copyright laws into the digital age have been in the works since 2005. Previous bills introduced in 2005 and 2008, by the Paul Martin and Harper governments, respectively, died on the floor of the House of Commons when Parliament was dissolved.

      Industry Minister Tony Clement and Heritage Minister James Moore announced the introduction of Bill C-32 on June 2. In addition to offering legal protection to companies that use digital locks—also known as technological protection measures—to restrict access to their content, the bill would bring in stronger protections for copyrighted materials and legalize some things many Canadians do every day, like recording television programs for later viewing.

      “Digital lock” is a catchall term for the means by which copyright owners control how a piece of content, software, or hardware can be used by others. For example, it’s possible to encrypt files to prevent copying, limit the number of times a music file can be burned onto a CD, and specify which region of the world a DVD can be played in.

      Under Bill C-32, cracking the lock placed on a device, disc, or file would be illegal. So if a DVD contains a digital lock, making a backup copy of it, or even moving music from a CD with a lock to an iPod would become a crime with a penalty of between $100 and $5,000.

      Snider says he’s struggling to understand where his brand of video art fits in. He knows digital locks can protect copyright owners from piracy but argues that they also create barriers that will deter future video artists.

      “They give the guise of trying to be hip,” Snider said of the federal government. “They put in all the buzzwords. But I feel all the power lies with the industry. Artists never see it.”

      Michael Geist, a law professor and the Canada Research Chair in Internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa, agrees with Snider. While Geist believes the government needs to craft copyright laws that better protect artists, consumers, and industry, he maintains that the bill doesn’t accomplish these goals.

      “There is virtually no upside from a consumer perspective at all,” Geist told the Straight by phone. “There are a lot of areas where the government has to try and strike a balance, but the fact is there is no balance on the digital locks.”

      According to Geist, Bill C-32’s digital-lock measures don’t take into account how average Canadians use digital media. He pointed out that the federal government could fix this problem by adding a line to the legislation saying that it’s legal to circumvent digital locks for purposes that don’t infringe on copyright. This compromise would allow companies to benefit from digital-lock-based business models and consumers to control their media, according to Geist.

      “What is so disappointing is that the government could have struck a compromise that would satisfy U.S. pressure about Canada living up to U.S. treaties and would have allowed those businesses to use digital-rights management or use digital locks and would have preserved the balance,” Geist said. “But unfortunately that is not what we got.”

      Moore, who besides being heritage minister is also the Conservative MP for Port Moody–Westwood–Port Coquitlam, refused to comment on Bill C-32.

      Meanwhile, the bill and its digital-lock provisions are getting rave reviews from the video-game industry.

      “We are a little different than a lot of other industries in that our only means of revenue is the sale of our intellectual property,” Danielle Parr, executive director of the Entertainment Software Association of Canada, told the Straight by phone from Toronto. “We don’t go on tour, we don’t sell T-shirts. It’s the sale of the actual intellectual property of the video game. So, being able to adequately protect our content is really important.”

      According to Parr, legal protection for games with digital locks will stop piracy. She asserted that this will help the industry develop more games.

      “A big-named title, now you are looking at $10 to $20 million at least, two years of development, with 100- to 200-person development teams,” Parr said. “There is actually only a small number of games that are actually profitable, and companies need to be able to make money in order to be able to reinvest.”

      Snider hopes the digital-lock provisions will be amended as the bill makes its way through Parliament. He has a simpler way of looking at copyrighted materials.

      “If you buy something, you should be allowed to use it any way you want,” Snider said.



      Michelle D

      Jul 12, 2010 at 1:42pm

      Remember that digital locks are not always put in place by copyright owners but often by other companies that distribute their work. Companies like Apple and Amazon do not give creators the choice whether or not these locks are applied. Not only would this prevent artists from deriving from these works but this could mean a copyright owner could be blocked by a digital lock from accessing their own work or giving access to others. That's just not right.

      So many artists, writers, MPs and trade associations have weighed in against this digital lock provision, why won't the government listen to us? Why are they only taking large corporate interests into account?

      Add your voice, write to your MP & the PM here:
      Michelle D

      Eo Nomine

      Jul 12, 2010 at 6:05pm

      Michelle, the Bill only prohibits circumvention of TPMs (aka digital locks) that have been authorized by the copyright owner. So if a creator wants to circumvent a TPM protecting theirnown work or authorize another to do so, the Bill would not prohibit them from from doing that. That said, the creators's contract with he distributor may prevent this, but that is not a matter of copyright and is between then creator and distributor to work out between them. Moreover, if the creator wants to distribute their work TPM free, there are plenty of other options, such as distributing over the web.


      Jul 13, 2010 at 7:05am

      Note, that none of the listed members of the Entertainment Software Association of Canada are Canadian-owned.


      Jul 13, 2010 at 7:25am

      Eo, suppose I publish a book under an open license, and Amazon decides to sell a copy on the Kindle. Yes, I am legally allowed to bypass their TPM because I'm the copyright holder, but how am I going to get software to do it? It's illegal to develop software to do backups of TPM protected works; it's illegal to develop software to do format-shifting. The software won't be developed, so in practice, the copyright owner *will* be blocked from accessing their own work or giving access to others.

      Victoria Shepherd

      Jul 13, 2010 at 7:47am

      Ms. Parr accurately notes that video game developers only profit from sale of their intellectual property. Absent DRM, how are they to monetize their creations so that they can invest in new and exciting consumer offerings? If a company chooses to employ DRM, it's essential that this choice be protected by law. If creators don't wish to utilize DRM, they aren't obligated to do so under the bill. What this Bill achieves is to finally provide some protection for creators and clarity for consumers. Protection for creaters leads to profitability and jobs.

      David L

      Jul 13, 2010 at 7:52am

      Eo, the bill does not only prohibit circumvention of TPMs that have been authorized by the copyright owner except for TPMs that restrict access to the work. TPMs that restrict other actions (such as copying, broadcasting, etc) cannot be circumvented even if they are not authorized by the copyright holder.

      K D

      Jul 13, 2010 at 7:55am

      Eo Nomine ignores the moral issue and is focusing on the bills language.

      To ignore the fact that Charter 2(b) rights of programmers is being infringed is dangerous. C-32 makes distribution of TPM breakers illegal, thus for your customers to remove the TPM on your content with your consent they will have to get illegal TPM breakers from a source. That source will be breaking the law. Thus they can only recieve the TPM breakers illegally. Eo how is that just or fair? Essentially by limiting the distribution of TPM breakers you are limiting the expression of programmers, programmers express their idea in a kind of formalized mathetmatics: source code. To limit TPM breaker distribution is to further infringe on section 2(b) of our charter.

      So this bill violates our charter and ignores all of the input from programmers we gave during the consultation.

      Eo I respect you want to dig into the technical details of the bill, but you have to step back and see the implications of the bill as well. Just because there are corner cases that allow some TPM breaking doesn't mean we should allow this bill to pass and it doesn't make the bill just.

      There is little excuse for the govt to restrict our rights further.

      Brendon J. Wilson

      Jul 13, 2010 at 8:09am

      Eo, you are clearly misinformed.

      First: the term TPM refers to a Trusted Platform Module, a specific type of cryptographic technology embedded in modern computers. While TPMs can be used to help implement a Digital Rights Management (DRM) scheme to protect content, it is not actually necessary to achieve such protection. DRM can be achieved in software alone; in the US, far flimsier mechanisms have been considered "protection schemes" in the eyes of the law.

      Second: The issue is not that there are some measures in the bill to allow circumvention (as you point out, with the creator's permission), but rather than fair dealing has never relied upon obtaining permission in the past. Effectively, this bill allows creators to eliminate consumers' right to fair dealing use of copyrighted works, and could result in the stifling of political, artistic, journalistic, or academic expression, simply by virtue of the application of protection scheme.

      Simon James

      Jul 13, 2010 at 8:22am

      The digital locks provision, as it stands, must not be allowed to become law. It would make a mockery of the law, as millions of people will just ignore it, given how easily the vast majority of DRM measures are easily passably. There is no way I am going to tell my kids they shouldn't transfer their (legally owned) DVD's to their iPod Touches etc., which puts me in a tough position as a parent trying to explain that "some laws are OK to break".

      Karl Stevens

      Jul 13, 2010 at 8:29am

      Eo Nomine, you are absolutely wrong.

      Bill C-32 prohibits circumvention of technological restrictions by the copyright holder, because it bans the tools necessary for circumvention.

      It's like saying "oh, you're allowed to drive, you're just not allowed to own, buy, lease, rent, make or import a motor vehicle". If you are denied the tools to do something, then you have been banned from doing it.