June 2008

Having had a few more hours to think about Industry Minister Jim Prentice's Canadian DMCA, I am left with one dominant feeling--betrayal. I have already highlighted the key provisions and coverage (and note that it will take some time to fully assess the implications of this bill) but it is immediately apparent that the concerns of thousands of Canadians--now over 45,000 on the Fair Copyright for Canada Facebook group alone--have been realized. If enacted, the Canadian DMCA would strongly encourage the use of technological locks and lawsuits. While Prentice has given a handful of new rights to Canadian consumers, each is subject to many limitations and undermined by the digital locks provisions that may effectively render the new rights meaningless.

So Why is it a Betrayal?

Because in a country whose Supreme Court of Canada has emphasized the importance of balance between creators rights and user rights, the Canadian DMCA eviscerates user rights in the digital environment by virtually eliminating fair dealing. Under this bill, the right to copy for the purposes of research, private study, criticism, and news reporting virtually disappears if the underlying content is digitally locked.

Because in a country that rightly promotes the importance of education, the Canadian DMCA erects new barriers for teachers, students, and schools at every level who now face the prospect of infringement claims if they want to teach using digital media.

Because in a country that prioritizes privacy, the Canadian DMCA will render it virtually impossible to protect against the invasion of privacy by digital media companies. The bill includes an exemption for those that circumvent digital locks to protect their privacy, yet renders the tools needed to circumvent illegal. In other words, the bill gives Canadians the right to protect their privacy but prohibits the tools needed to do so.

Because in a country that values consumer rights, the Canadian DMCA means that consumers no longer control their own personal property. That CD or DVD or e-book or cellphone you just bought? The bill says you now have the right to engage in "private use copying" but not if it contains digital locks.

Because the Conservative Party of Canada promised to Stand Up for Canada, yet the Canadian DMCA is quite clearly U.S.-inspired legislation, the result of intense pressure from U.S. officials and lobby groups.

Because the government pledged to table treaties for House of Commons debate before introducing implementing legislation and failed to do so. Claims that this legislation does not ratify the treaties violates the spirit of that commitment.

Because ratification of the World Intellectual Property Organization's Internet Treaties can be accomplished in a far more balanced manner.

Because countries such as New Zealand and Israel have demonstrated that there is no need to blindly follow U.S. demands on the copyright file.

Because the interests of individual Canadians--including those calling for more flexible fair dealing--is completely ignored.

Because the Canadian DMCA was introduced without consulting consumer groups, education groups, civil society groups, or the Canadian public.

Because Jim Prentice knows better. He saw first-hand the passion of Canadians calling for balanced copyright and has received thousands of calls and letters on the issue. Yet rather than genuinely working to craft a balanced solution, he opted to release a fatally flawed bill.

Despite all that, I still also harbour some optimism. The events of the past six months have demonstrated conclusively that Canadians care about balanced copyright even if the Industry Minister does not. Over the coming months, I firmly believe that we will see the fair copyright movement expand well beyond what has been just built. We will see Canadian musicians, songwriters, artists, and filmmakers speak out against this legislation. We will see companies of all sizes and all sectors speak out against this legislation. We will see the privacy groups, education groups, and consumer rights groups speak out against this legislation.

We will see the NDP speak out against this legislation. We will see the Liberals--who are already focusing on the lack of consultation and the prospect of a police state--ultimately identify their Bill C-60 as a better approach and speak out against this legislation. We will see Conservative MPs from coast to coast (including the Conservative candidate from the forthcoming Guelph by-election) wonder why their party has introduced a bill that runs counter to their own policies and (quietly) speak out against this legislation.

We will see thousands of Canadians speak out against this legislation again and again and again until it is changed.

The Canadian DMCA is a kick in the gut to Canadians everywhere. But I believe we will get back up and demand better. Start now:

  1. Write to your MP, the Industry Minister, the Canadian Heritage Minister, and the Prime Minister. If you send an email, print it out and drop a copy in the mail. If you are looking for a sample letter, visit Copyright for Canadians.
  2. Take 30 minutes to meet directly with your MP. From late June through much of the summer, your MP will be back in your community. Every MP in the country should return to Ottawa in the fall having heard from their constituents on this issue.
  3. If you are not a member of the Fair Copyright for Canada Facebook group, join. If you are, consider joining or starting a local chapter and be sure to educate your friends and colleagues about the issue.

This article originally appeared as a blog entry. You can learn more about the Canadian DMCA and other copyright issues at Michael Geist's blog.

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