Where do you draw the line with Canadian Copyright?

Canadian copyright is excessively complex, and makes illegal things which most Canadians don't even believe are illegal when you tell them. Given this complexity and over-coverage, I believe nearly every Canadian infringes copyright many times a week.

There is a line that each of us draws that fits our sense of right and wrong. It sits somewhere between recording a television show to watch later, and mass producing videos to be sold for profit. Both of these activities are illegal under current Canadian law. Most Canadians believe the first is a perfectly legitimate activity, even if they are part of that small minority that realize it is illegal in Canada. Most Canadians believe the second is wrong, know it is illegal, and agree it should be illegal.

While lobbiests and some law-makers believe that making copyright "stronger" will make people infringe less, I don't believe this coincides with human nature. The more activities that Canadians believe are perfectly legitimate are made illegal by copyright, the less respectable copyright becomes. The less respectable copyright becomes, the more respectable it will be to slide that line further and further into activities we as a society would have previously thought was wrong.

As someone who believes creators should be paid for their valuable contributions to society, I fear how creating a Prohibition-like atmosphere around copyright will continue to erode societies respect for the rights of creators.

My line drawing

Where I draw the line depends on the form of the creativity. Back in 2000 I started a boycott of commercial entertainment multimedia (No media purchases, just radio listening and TV viewing). Over time that faded to ignoring major label music, and now to something that is more nuanced.

For recorded music and audio books, it is easy. Enough music and audio books to satisfy me are available through services like eMusic. The content is uninfected by anti-interoperability digital locks, so the purchased content works on every device I own today and into the future.

The content is also priced appropriately: I don't believe music is worth $1 or more per track. With eMusic it is priced at $0.49 per track, but long-term subscribers get a bonus each month that means I can download about 50 songs a month for $11.99 ($0.24/track).

For movies and television it is not so easy. It became obvious to me that unlike music, there was no move away from anti-interoperability access controls for movies and television. If I purchased a DVD it was nearly certain that it would require me to bypass the DVD CSS encryption in order to access the content on all the devices that I own. While I have one "authorized" device, I would not be interested in purchasing content if I would only be able to access it on that one device.

I gave up the boycott, and pay for content knowing full well that I will be circumventing the access controls. I know that this is illegal for me to device and format shift content today, and I know it will be even more illegal in the future if misinformed politicians pass laws to make circumventing these access controls illegal even for purposes that help the legitimate interests of creators.

For some people their attitude would be simple: if accessing the content in reasonable ways will be illegal anyway, why not infringe copyright? Why pay money for the right to break the law?

While I understand the sentiment, I will not follow suit. I am perfectly willing to quite publicly violate laws which I believe are unjust and should be changed, as a form of civil disobedience. In the language of the WTO/TRIPS 3-step test for exceptions to copyright I will in "certain special cases" violate copyright in ways that "do not conflict with a normal exploitation of the work and do not unreasonably prejudice the legitimate interests of the rights holder"

Since adopting this new approach to DVD's I've purchased over 50 DVD titles that include full DVD sets of some programs (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Battlestar Galactica), all the full seasons of some shows (Dr Who, Sarah Jane Adventures, Torchwood, Dollhouse and Sanctuary), and movies including Star Trek, the extended and non-extended versions of Lord of the Rings, and earlier this month the Three-Disc extended Collectors's Edition of Avatar. Many hundreds of dollars later (near or past $1K this year alone), I am quite happy with my decision.

I watch episodes of these shows on my "authorized" DVD player, on my home computer, on my Google Nexus One smart-phone and OLPC laptop when on the go. For all but the first it involves circumventing a technical measure, and for the latter two it involved re-encoding the content to a format compatible with these devices and copying the file to those devices.

While I am fully aware these activities are already illegal under current Canadian law, and will be even more illegal under C-32, I feel left with little choice. The terms offered to me by the industry are simply not reasonable or acceptable. My choice is to either obey the letter of the law and not purchase or access this content, or I will pay my money and be labelled by some political extremists as a "pirate". Given my respect for the legitimate interests of creators, I will continue to do the latter.

I welcome feedback, including and especially from people who believe they are not infringers, or who believe I have made the wrong choice by paying for my content.