Monday, December 17, 2007

Uproar About Possible Canadian Copyright Changes

There has been an uproar in Canada as of late regarding potential new Canadian copyright legislation that could mean major changes to the way we consume digital content. Many feel that we could be plagued with laws that mirror the American DMCA (Digital Milennium Copyright Act) which strictly forbids the copying of any media that’s locked or “protected” (like music protected by DRM restrictions). Remember a slew of lawsuits against college students and little kids back in 2003 when the U.S. began its rampage against illegal music downloaders? Well, this is what a change in copyright legislation could lead to here in Canada: illegal copying being deemed punishable by law.

Don't get me wrong: I don't condone illegal behaviour, and I think this could help when it comes to busting large piracy rings. But where we need to draw the line is at individual, personal use. A ruling like this could result in innocent Holly homemakers and Little Billies being deemed criminals because they want to use content they've purchased in a certain way. For example, if you make a copy of a CD or DVD to listen to in the car; or transfer a movie from a physical DVD to your nifty, new media server.

The Sling Media Slingbox is a perfect example of this. If you aren’t familiar with the Slingbox, it's a device that can be connected to a video source, like your cable set-top box, and a high-speed Internet connection at home, then allows you to watch your cable from your notebook PC (or compatible PDA) anywhere in the world where there’s a high-speed Internet connection. The key word here is your cable service on your notebook. This is great if, say, you’re in Hong Kong on business, but don’t want to miss the Leafs play-off games. Why is this so wrong? You’ve already paid for the cable, and you’ve paid for the notebook. Even if you have a friend join you to watch the game on your tiny notebook screen, how is this any different than having him over to your home to watch it on your big-screen TV? Yet copyright laws could indeed make this act a criminal offense!

There are even more shady areas, like recording programs onto a TiVo, loading up an iPod with ripped tunes, and even watching a TV program that you saved to a flash memory card in your PC. What's next? An officer waiting outside the bathroom to write me a ticket for infringing on artist copyrights because i was singing his song in the shower?

The problem with things like the DMCA is that they attempt to limit what one customer can do with things he’s already purchased, and this simply isn’t fair. I have made analogies before, like giving a friend a pair of jeans or jewelry. Technically, doing so means she isn’t going to go out and purchase the item herself, and I’m using the clothing or jewelry for means other than for what I purchased them. Should this be considered illegal? Of course not. The very thought is ludicrous. Yet if I purchase digital tunes and give a copy of them to my friend, that’s considered illegal.

I’m not na├»ve to think that people could, and would, take advantage of illegal copying. And these are the people that the law needs to go after: those who are producing items in mass quantities and selling them at a profit. But to consider the everyday Holly Homemaker or suburban family with a media server as criminals is quite simply, nonsense. Not to mention that it wouldn't solve anything; it would more likely cause an even bigger backlash against the broadcast industry than we’ve already seen.

The new copyright legislation was to be announced this past week, but the decision has been postponed until the end of the year, likely due to the amount of consumer attention that has arisen over the rumoured changes. Let's keep our fingers crossed that we won't be restricted any further in how we enjoy our own digital content.


Anonymous said...

Very good article!

I agree 100% with you.

Russell McOrmond said...

You may have caused confusion in your posting by mentioning the lawsuits, which were against people alleged to be sharing music online with P2P tools without authorization. Contrary to a common misconception, this is as illegal in Canada as in the United States. The difference is that in Canada the recording industry wants to use this misconception to lobby the government to ratify the WIPO Internet treaties. The other difference is that we have far stronger federal privacy legislation (PIPEDA).

If Canadian labels wanted to sue Canadian music fans, the federal court and federal court of appeals gave them a blueprint to do so. All that is necessary for them to pass the PIPEDA test is for them to provide a tiny bit of evidence.

Otherwise, your coversage of the anti-circumvention issue is great. I host a Petition to protect Information Technology property rights focused on this issue. I am a software author, and anti-circumvention legislation is a greater threat to my livelihood than any amount of copyright infringement.

Anonymous said...

You may also remember the popular DVD Copy software by 321 Studios, DVD X Copy Platinum. The Hollywood studios eventually had 321 Studios shut down on the basis that these DVD movie copying programs violated the DMCA. As with the music industry and Napster, this Hollywood "victory" has lead to the creation of dozens of new DVD burning program that can copy CSS copy-protected DVD moviews. All the current best DVD copy software is listed, ranked, reviewed and compared side-by-side at: