Canada’s SOPA

Canada has been lagging behind when it comes to copyright laws. The Copyright Act of Canada , introduced in 1921 and last amended in 1997, is in dire need of an upgrade, considering the 1997 amendment was made in the last century—before (as the Canadian government itself points out) “before the ‘dot-com’ era, before social media, and before tablet computers and mobile devices allowed us to access thousands of songs, movies, and applications at the touch of a button or the swipe of a finger” . The question is: in what ways should it be refashioned for this digital, post-millennial age?

First, a very short history lesson: there have been three attempts to update the Act since 1997—Bill C-60 in June 2005, Bill C-61 in the summer of 2008 and Bill C-32 in June 2010. All three fell by the wayside due to political upheavals during those times.

Which brings us to Bill C-11. Introduced in September 2011, and titled the Copyright Modernization Act, it is, for all intents and purposes, identical to the last failed attempt, Bill C-32.

The Canadian government promises that the new Act will:

  • implement the rights and protections of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Internet treaties;
  • give copyright owners the tools they need to combat piracy;
  • clarify the roles and responsibilities of ISPs and search engines;
  • promote creativity and new methods of teaching in the classroom by providing greatly expanded exceptions for education;
  • encourage innovation in the private sector through exceptions for technical computer processes;
  • provide legal protection for businesses that choose to use technological protection measures or “digital locks” to protect their work as part of their business models; and,
  • give consumers the ability to, among other things, record their favourite TV shows for later viewing, transfer music from a CD to a digital device, and create a mash-up to post via social media.

While there are numerous ways in which Canadian copyright law is less draconian and more flexible than its equivalent south of the border—music consumers sharing MP3s will not suffer the disproportionate fines the RIAA have attempted to impose in the United States, for example—nonetheless there are concerns.

One key area is the so-called “enabler provision.” This would allow for a potential expansion of the power to go after “not just sites containing copyright-infringing content, but also those ‘enabling’ acts of infringement as well.” The practical consequences of that could result in the demise of such internet giants as YouTube, its critics claim.

Chief among those critics is Michael Geist. Claiming a portion of the bill could be described as the “Reduce U.S. Pressure Copyright act”, Geist goes after the “digital lock” provisions in particular, which would make it illegal for a person to crack a digital lock placed on a device, disc or file—making it an offence to copy a CD or digital song sold with copy protection on it, for example. He describes these provisions as being among the most restrictive in the world and criticizes them on the grounds that, among other things, they may override education rights, they go too far and (as with SOPA) they probably wouldn’t work anyway.

Despite the criticisms, however, this bill is probably more fairly described as flawed but fixable… as long as an informed populace remains vigilant.

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