A new Canadian copyright bill

Our government just proposed a new copyright bill that grants a few more fair dealing rights to the public. But at the same time, it let publishers strip all those rights away by the use of a digital lock. Digital locks are those things which are often trivial to break but are meant to make some actions more difficult. Have you ever ripped a DVD to your iPod or otherwise extracted its content to play it somewhere else than an ‘approved’ DVD player with the DVD logo on it? Then you’ve broken a lock, perhaps without noticing since the software did it for you, and with this new bill you’d also be breaking the law.

The problem isn’t really the digital locks themselves. It’s really that the law forbid you to break a digital lock even if it’s to perform perfectly lawful activity. Digital locks often serve a legitimate use: they make it more difficult to do things you are not entitled to do with the music, video, software or other copyrighted work you purchased. I’m using a kind of digital lock myself integrated with the software I’m selling: you need to purchase a serial number (a key to the lock) to use it.

But a digital lock can be overly restrictive, and they often are. A digital lock can hinder you from creating a backup copy of any digital content. It can block copy-pasting a paragraph of a digital book, even if you’re doing so for quoting the book in your own research in a perfectly legal way. In all those cases, there’s generally a way to bypass the lock to accomplish what you’re entitled to do. But this bill, by making lock circumvention illegal even in those cases, is violating its own spirit by offering a way for publishers to make illegal the exertion of those rights the public is supposed to have.

As I said earlier, I’m not against digital locks: I’m even using one myself to help protect my software. Digital locks exist to make it harder to violate copyright; but they should be afforded legal protection only when they help achieve this goal. This bill needs to be changed so it doesn’t strip the public of its legal rights when a digital lock goes beyond what is normally protected under copyright.

I am aware that Canadian politicians are pressed by some multinational corporations (and countries sold to their interests) who’d very much like to grab all those rights for themselves. I’d be horrified to see fair dealing disappear under a digital lock, and I hope that Parliament can fix this problem before the bill is made into law.

Thank you for reading my plea.

Notes & References

Fair dealing and other rights stripped away by digital locks in the new copyright bill (based on the June 1 leaked document):

  • 29.22 (1) paragraph (c)
    Reproduction for Private Purposes

  • 29.23 (1) paragraph (b)
    Fixing Signals and Recording Programs for Later Listening or Viewing

  • 29.24 (1) paragraph (c)
    Backup Copies

  • 30.04 (3) and (4) paragraph (a)
    Education - Work available through Internet

Sections 41.1 to 41.24 forbid distribution and usage of any system for circumvention of a digital lock. Considering it is often necessary to circumvent a digital lock to make use of fair dealing rights, forbidding the tools to circumvent a digital lock makes fair dealing impossible. This should be addressed too.

This is a message I just sent to my MP, and in addition to Stephen Harper (Prime Minister), Tony Clement (Industry Minister), James Moore (Heritage Minister), Gilles Duceppe (Bloc Québécois Leader), Jack Layton (NDP Leader), Michael Ignatieff (Liberal Party Leader), Marc Garneau (Liberal Industry, Science & Technology Critic), Charlie Angus (NDP Heritage, Culture and Digital Issues Critic).

If you feel the same as me about this issue, perhaps it’ll help to let your MP know about it. No need to write a story like I did, just a quick, personal, and respectful opinion will do. You can find your MP coordinates easily on the Parliament web site.

  • © 2003–2024 Michel Fortin.