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The Revenge of Oppressive Copyright Legislation

How Can We Kill This Beast For Good?
The most troubling aspect of this much maligned copyright reform? The government itself does not seem to understand the full extent of its potential dangers.

By Jesse Betteridge

Copyright as an idea and a legal concept has been around for more than four hundred years since shortly after the invention of the printing press. The arrival of the digital age hascreated great upheaval in the world of copyrights as making copies of movies, music and other has become easier and more broadly accessible. The response of content owners, most particulary major media companies, has been to use technological and legal means to protect and often extend and expand copyrights and even to limit the rights of users and others. Governments, including Canada's, have generally gone along with this but are facing increasing opposition from many quarters. Copyright Symbol Many reading this article will already be aware of both the spawn and demise of Bill C-61 – the federal Conservative government's rather unfortunate attempt to amend the Copyright Act. I'm also certain that many had a somewhat discerning giggle when the Tories made a major gaffe by not only proposing to reintroduce the vastly unpopular legislation after winning the election, but actually integrating this intent into their party platform.

It is expected that this potential new bill will be just as draconian, anti-consumer, and culturally destructive as the previous one. However, this unwarranted confidence in the legislation's public appeal has revealed what may be the most troubling aspect of this much maligned copyright reform: the government itself does not seem to understand the full extent of its potential dangers.

Why many don't see it as a problem!

Superficially, the bill is presented and perceived by many as a simple method of combating piracy of the downloading sort. It's sold to the public as a prescription for ridding Canada of the stigma it has recently been tagged with from the American music and film industries as the world's hotspot for media piracy. As hysterically inaccurate as that label appears when compared to the likes of China and much of eastern Europe, it nonetheless carries with it that distinct corporate pressure that proves far easier to address than to defy.

Even though the current version of the Copyright Act is quite sufficiently in line with the expectations of the decade-old World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) treaties which the new amendments are allegedly meant to rectify, it still seems imperative that our nation find a solution to these accusations that have been improvised before our government by corporate lobbyists. And since it's impossible to understand the logic behind their spontaneously devised problem, it only seems to make sense that the government let the lobbyists devise their own solution to it.

The real effects of the bill

The fact that former Industry Minister Jim Prentice had to sell Bill C-61 as a 'Made in Canada' solution was probably the clearest indication that it wasn't. The few comments he has made addressing the issue of copyright legislation (most notably his interview with Jesse Brown on CBC Radio 3's Search Engine) have showcased a lavish, and possibly even forced, ignorance surrounding the problems that this bill will potentially create for average Canadians. Despite these dreadful consequences, an unquestioned acceptance of the bill's contents on part of both the Industry Minister as well as the Tories as a whole appear to be a special requirement for accepting this prescription to our recent diagnosis of rampant piracy.

In truth, very few details within the tangled mess of this bill dealt specifically with piracy, with more of its complex focus being placed on locking down technology through the protection of Digital Rights Management (DRM) systems. Under the proposed laws:

  • Transferring media of any kind from one format to another, even for preservation purposes, will warrant a $20,000 fine
  • Unlocking a cellphone, iPod, or any similar device will warrant a similar fine
  • It will be impossible to legally back up a DVD or watch imported videos on a regular player
  • No exceptions are made for breaking digital locks – not even for academic or scientific research
  • Fair Dealing is virtually eliminated, with no exceptions being made for music sampling or parody

With artistic and technological innovation potentially being locked down for all Canadians, Parliament has essentially been handed a time bomb from corporate lobbyists under the guise of something else entirely.

What has to be done

The best hope for all of this is that the new bill will never see the light of day, and that the wide, unpopular opinion it garners will be enough to keep it off the table. Unfortunately, the copyright issue had virtually no impact in the results of the last federal election, even in volatile ridings, which will likely eliminate hesitation in pushing new legislation through sometime in the very near future. The best solution is to get in contact with Conservative MPs and demand that a bill as radical as this one receives the type of proper public consultation it deserves before it is even tabled. Failing that, providing a list of revisions to help re-establish Fair Dealing and at least some exceptions to DRM enforcement and hoping that they wind up carrying some weight may be the best we can hope for. Whatever the outcome, the most important thing is to ensure that Canadians have at least some kind of say in their own country's copyright legislation.

Some resources on the current debate on copyright reform:

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