Tuesday, June 17, 2008

DMC-eh? Why Canada's new Copyright law is a mistake

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Parliament is considering an updated copyright law. Unfortunately, it's a mistake that will cost consumers in the long run.

Below you will find:
  • Background
  • What is wrong with this proposed law?
  • Where the law fails consumers
  • What can you do if you disagree
  • Recent articles and feedback on the proposed new Copyright Bill
  • Additional Background - how far the music and film industries will go
  • Other Related

But before I begin, why am I writing this in a blog with a Scouting focus? Well the simple answer is that Scouts should do the right thing. In order for them to do the right thing they need good guidance and they need to understand the issues. One of our Scouts could become a future Prime Minister (at least 6 were Scouts). One or more of our Scouts may have to deal with outdated laws and conflicted interests. And before that, as all of our Scouts grow up they will have to learn to live with our laws; whether fair or unfair, and they may want to voice their own opinions on those laws.

At the heart of the issue is the balance between consumers and the producers/distributors of Intellectual Property or IP. Specifically IP includes things like books, magazines, music, and films. For years there have been battles between those controlling IP, those stealing it, and legitimate consumers who all too frequently get caught in the middle.

Organizations like the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) are in the forefront of these battles which are both legal and technical.

Digital Rights Management (DRM) is one of the most despised innovations technologies in recent years. Flaws in its design and implementation can and have left consumers unable to access things they've purchased. Additionally, DRM is stifling and exacts a penalty on everyone who uses a computer regardless if they have any music or video. DRM has been cited as a major factor as to why people dislike Windows Vista.

I'm fairly certain that most people don't condone the outright theft of music and film for commercial gain. But the public perception of things seem to become a lot more cloudy when the issue becomes non-commercial sharing.

Let me be very clear, amassing a large collection of music, film, and other content without paying for it is wrong. And sharing that collection with the world is also wrong.

Buying music or video, recording it and then reselling the original is cheating the system too. This will be illegal under the new law.

So a key question becomes what is the boundary of reasonable fair use? Where is the balance? And how as consumers can we protect our rights?

Recent history has shown that the organizations controlling IP will aggressively pursue their interests and use every tool available to them. In the extreme, they and their agents have violated the copyright and licenses of others and they have been acused of violating other laws to serve their own interests. If only their voices are heard, consumer rights will very easily be trampled.

What is wrong with this proposed law?

While some of the clarifications are welcome, other provisions in this new Copyright Bill (C61) are not. Not only is it unbalanced, it appears to effectively remove the key idea of intent through anti-circumvention provisions, and will likely bring Canadians the same kind of legal harassment that has been seen in the US. This will go far beyond the issues of downloading and uploading.

Balancing the rights of the producers, distributors, and consumers of content is a tricky job. Commercial piracy is a large problem that needs to be addressed. The problem of downloading and file sharing is trickier to address without harming Canadian consumer rights.

While this proposed update to our copyright laws gives consumers some rights, it takes away a great deal more. We will be able to:
  • Change the format of are old (analog) recordings to newer devices
  • Use PVRs and VCRs to time shift view programs
  • We will NOT be able to do any of this for protected digital format which means we will not be able to move or copy protected CDs, DVDs, or individual songs and films
  • We may be prohibited from backing up music kept on computers (or restoring content after loss).
  • We may not be able to move content from obsolete formats to newer ones.
Where the law fails consumers

The Bill fails consumers who have purchased legal copies of copyrighted material in several ways.
Broadening the scope of the Bill in the following areas would address these failings:
  • Backup Copies
  • Non-infringing Non-commercial Uses
  • Format Shifting
  • Interoperability
What can you do if you disagree

If you wish to take action against this proposed law and get your voice heard, please see:
If you are determined you can sometimes vote with your wallet. Avoid copy protected CD's, refuse to buy copy protected songs (most iTunes songs are protected using Advanced Audio Coding or AAC). Unfortunately there seems to be no legal unprotected video content available.

Recent articles and feedback on the proposed new Copyright Bill
Additional Background - how far the music and film industries will go

Other Related

  • Some information on DMCA from the Electronic Frontier Foundation

  • The cost of DRM

  • "Intellectual property" is a silly euphemism, Cory Doctorow, The Guardian (UK), February 2008
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