Deadlines to hear your views on Copyright

(Also posted to IT World Canada's blog)

There are two deadlines quickly approaching for those who wish to have their views known about Copyright in general, and Bill C-32 in specific.

The Legislative Committee on Bill C-32 sent out a press release last month indicating that briefs should be sent to the Committee's mailbox by the end of January, 2011. Details about the format and length are in the press release.

Parliamentarians are set return to the House of Commons Monday, January 31, 2011 . When parliamentarians are not in Ottawa, they are in their constituencies and are far more available to set up meetings and otherwise talk with constituents. This is not time off for them, and it should not be for those of you who are concerned with the direction that Canadian copyright law is taking.

I haven't sent my brief to the committee yet as I want to ensure I have the wording right. If you have feedback, it would be appreciated (OpenDocument format, PDF format).

The committee requires that any submissions longer than 5 pages should have a 1 page executive summary. I am including my summary in case this will entice others with similar views to ensure the committee is aware of these issues.

Executive Summary

Over the past decade I have had an opportunity to speak with many fellow creators and other Canadians about copyright. I have come to form opinions on nearly all aspects of the Copyright Act, and the various commercial and non-commercial activities that are regulated by it. While I have commented on many of them in a set of Frequently Asked Questions (and answers), for the purpose of this brief I must focus on the primary issue of technological protection measures.

I have been a self-employed technology consultant since 1995, working as a hardware repair person and system administrator before that. My technology experience starts in the early 1980's. As part of my job I author software.

As a technical person I can translate marketing and brand terminology into real-world technology. I have found that much of the analysis and discussion of technical measures in the context of copyright has not included discussion of real-world technology. In nearly every case when the term "copy control", "use control" or "Digital Rights Management" is used, what is actually being discussed is a vendor-dependant content delivery platform.

The problem is that if non-technical people believe that "copy control" is something other than a marketing term, they will push forward laws which regulate these technology platforms as if they were something other than a technology platform.

How these technologies are regulated is critically important. If we treat these technology platforms as if they were a matter of copyright law, we are allowing the creators of these technology platforms to circumvent the traditional contours of contract, competition, consumer protection, copyright, e-commerce, privacy, property and trade law.

The current language of Bill C-32 offers legal protection for this circumvention of the traditional contours of these laws. It is critical that the committee take the time to learn how these technologies work, and regulate appropriately. Ideal is if technical measures are not mentioned in copyright law at all, but in the appropriate laws connected to the activities regulated by the technology (IE: contract law for TPMs protecting contracts including copyright licenses). A less ideal alternative is to ensure that anti-circumvention in copyright law is closely tied to infringing activities, as suggested in the 1996 WIPO internet treaties.

I believe it is better for creators, other copyright holders, the competitive technology sector and Canadians as a whole to not update copyright law at all than to pass a bill which legalizes technology platform providers circumventing copyright and other laws. I consider the current anti-circumvention rules in Bill C-32 to be a show-stopper that warrant rejecting the bill as a whole.


Russell McOrmond is a self employed consultant, policy coordinator for CLUE: Canada's Association for Free/Libre and Open Source Software, co-coordinator for Getting Open Source Logic INto Governments (GOSLING), and host for Digital Copyright Canada.