Canada Creates Copyright Controversy with Half-and-Half Bill

The digital world has provided endless opportunities to expand and distribute content — and a near-endless stream of tactics from corporate forces to keep that content under very tight control. Under new legislation proposed in Canada, some of those restrictive tactics would lose their sting, though others seem poised to head off the whole point at the pass.

The proposed law is being applauded by the Canadian music industry — never a sign that there are good things to come for consumers — but has fierce opposition from legions of listeners who are angered by provisions added to protect the music industry. Among the bills consumer-friendly provisions are a reduction in the amount of damages a copyright owner can gain by suing infringers, lowered to CAD$500 from $20,000; also included is the right to make copies of purchased music for each of a user's devices, preventing copyright owners from claiming infringement for transferring music to a user's computer or MP3 player. Consumers will be allowed to record television and radio for later playback — a practice that has often courted controversy in the past — though copies cannot be retained indefinitely as a personal library. Internet service providers will be protection from liability caused by users sharing files via their service, and will bear only the requirement to notify the users of the infringement, not remove it entirely as is required in the U.S.

While listener groups applaud the new protections, certain provisions have raised their ire for effectively eliminating those protections in the same flourish that creates them. Particularly despised is a provision making the removal of Digital Rights Management technology illegal, and invalidating all of the protection previsions in such cases. Many believe the legislation will spur increased lockdown of media files, insuring that no files can be transferred without first breaching DRM and triggering penalties of $20,000 or more. Similar penalties apply to those who upload music for file sharing, though downloaders who have not tampered with DRM are protected by the $500 limit. Uploading includes not only sharing the files through P2P technology, but also uploading copyrighted materials, including songs and pictures, to websites and other services, including social networks like Facebook and MySpace. Equally illegal will be the sale, provision, or import of technology used to breach DRM — in many cases, all that is required is a quick copying to CD, which leaves one to wonder whether the Canadian Parliament is about to criminalize CD burners.

For anyone willing to brave the somewhat clunky format, the full text of the bill is available on the Canadian Parliament's website. As things stand, the bill has only seen its first reading, leaving plenty of time for both supporters and opponents to organize their response and contact their legislators. With an opposition Facebook group numbering more than 40,000 less than a day after the bill was announced, we suspect Canada Post may need to put an extra truck or twenty on standby.

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Justin Ryan is a Contributing Editor for Linux Journal.