C-32 committee meeting 10 thoughts

It was a packed house for the first half of Meeting 10 of the C-32 committee. You had some familiar faces as observers who had been past witnesses such as witnesses such as Jason Kee, and you also had people like David Basskin (CMRRA, who I had a chance to debate back in 2003).

Up first was Jay Kerr-Wilson (Representing the Business Coalition for Balance Copyright), Perrin Beatty (President & CEO of Canadian Chamber of Commerce), and Lee Webster (Chair, Intellectual Property Committee, Canadian Chamber of Commerce). This was a set of witnesses that supported the digital locks direction of copyright over the levies direction that was prominent from the last meeting.

In his introductory remarks and in other answers I found that Mr. Beatty sounded like a politician giving motherhood-and-apple-pie type speeches that didn't get at any of the details which is where nearly all disagreements exist. We can all agree that creators deserve to be paid for their valuable contributions to society, but disagree on what policies will help or hinder that goal.

I felt that Mr. Kerr-Wilson was unaware of what is locked and who owns what in real-world TPM examples. This is all too common in this debate where people are pushing for regulation of technology without adequately understanding the technology. When the Bloc and Mr. Angus brought up levies I was happy that he clarified that the copyright act is not a good place for a government funding program.

In the second hour was Terrance Oakey (Vice-President, Federal Government Relations) and Howard P. Knopf (Council) representing the Retail Council of Canada, and Anthony Hémond (Lawyer) representing Union des consommateurs.

The Retail Council of Canada's presentation would not be surprising. They were strongly against the private copying levy being extended to devices, and thought that TPMs should be limited to infringing purposes.

Mr. Knopf clarified in an answer some of the problems with parallel imports, where copyright is being abused as a way to impose regional restriction style barriers to trade for products nearly entirely unrelated to copyright (IE: sale of chocolate bars). While fixing this problem would be a good start, I would like to eventually see further policy to disallow copyright to be abused to implement regional restriction in copyright related products/services as well. Lost sales due to copyrighted works not being made legally available in a region is likely as large or larger a problem than lost-sales due to infringement. (Note: I still can't get the Audio Book version of Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake which is available via eMusic in the USA but not in Canada)

On many things I found myself in agreement with Anthony Hémond. He was one of the few witnesses who brought up the fact that excessively complex or generally misunderstood copyright leads to infringement. It is one of the reasons I say that the private copying regime has been a failure, even while I support a properly administered PLR-like government program as a substitute. All evidence I have seen also suggests that digital locks on content increase copyright infringement.

I will have to re-read the transcript at a later time as I found his comments about the private copying regime to be confusing. I wasn't sure if he supported its expansion to devices, its abolition, or the status-quo.

The dynamics between the politicians was interesting as always. Mr. Del Mastro commented that the numbers used that claim to represent the harm to creators from various policies seem to come from a Wheel of Fortune that is spun. I am in strong agreement with him here as the numbers generally don't mean what the witnesses or opposition parties claim they mean. You need to go to the methodology to determine what is actually said (if anything) by the number.

Mr. Lake read the record from a motion on extending CPCC to devices that had all the Liberal, Bloc and NDP voting in favor. While I know why he was doing this, I happen to think it is a good thing that politicians are willing to look at new data and amend their past policy decisions.

I am relying on politicians being able to accept new information and change historical mistakes as the reason why I'm paying so close attention to the C-32 committee hearings.

As I listen to Mr. Del Mastro and Mr. Lake, I get the impression that I agree with them in their ultimate goals for C-32. Where I disagree with them is whether C-32 will actually accomplish those goals.

The suggestion is that current Canadian copyright law is allowing massive destruction of value, and major changes are needed. Nearly all the things which are brought up as examples are things like unauthorized P2P filesharing of music which is already illegal in Canada. It was illegal before, and it will be illegal (with less penalties for non-commercial cases) after.

The suggestion is that Fair Dealings needs to be expanded to legalize things which Canadians were already doing such as time shifting using VCR's. While it is great to legalize the common use of technology that is now being sent to landfill, it doesn't legalize the same activities using current digital technology. The proposals are so complex that most people won't understand them, and this will lead to increased inadvertent infringement. Canadians believe the lobbiests when they are told that Canadian law is "weaker" than US law, and simply don't believe you when you try to tell them that activities which are perfectly legal under US Fair Use are illegal under Canadian copyright law. A law that is unnecessarily and excessively complex as to not possibly be understood can't possibly be "obeyed" by average Canadians.

The suggestion is that legal protection for technical measures will decrease infringement and enable new business models. All evidence based on real-world technology suggests the opposite. Anti-interoperability locks on content induce infringement as people look to access content which is not legally available for the devices they own. Non-owner locks on devices allow dishonest content distribution platform companies to circumvent the traditional contours of contract, competition, consumer protection, copyright, e-commerce, privacy, property and trade law. While it is true that this may "enable new business models", I don't think that making money by circumventing the contours of existing laws should be considered a legitimate business model.

I look forward to an opportunity to meet with Mr. Lake and Mr. Del Mastro, either individually, in a group of caucus members or as part of an intervention in front of the C-32 legislative committee. If they understand what I have to say, and are willing to change their minds based on this new information, maybe we can get a Bill C-32 that isn't so harmful to the interests of most Canadians including copyright holders.