As politicians and pundits speculate the federal government is about to call an election, the prognosis of the copyright legislation introduced last June appears poor.
If the Governor General dissolves Parliament, Bill C-61, the Act to Amend the Copyright Act, will die on the order paper, rather than go to committee for further study and second reading.
Although the New Democratic Party opposes the bill, crafted by Industry Minister Jim Prentice, the NDP’s digital rights critic says Canada’s Copyright Act still needs to be changed.
“We can’t just put off the issue of copyright,” said Charlie Angus, who represents the Ontario riding of Timmins-James Bay. “We actually need to get some legislation in place. I think Bill C-61 was the wrong legislation but certainly when Parliament gets back, we’ve got to get the job done.”
And if this happens, a new government will probably introduce new legislation, said Michael Geist, a University of Ottawa professor who publishes a blog on electronic law
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that copyright will be back regardless of who forms the government,” Geist said. “I think it’s going to take some time. If an election is on (Oct.) 14, I don’t think we’re going to wake up on the 15th with a new government and new copyright law on the 15th. But given both the Liberals and the Conservatives have come out in the past with bills that have died on the order paper, I think there’s every reason to believe we’ll see new legislation and we’ll see it fairly early in the mandate of whoever is elected.”
The NDP’s industry critic, Peggy Nash, suggests the ruling Conservatives never intended to have Bill C-61 passed into law.
“I don’t think this government has been serious about the copyright issue or they wouldn’t have delayed and postponed the introduction of a bill, and then introduced one at the last minute knowing there would be an election even before it could be debated at committee,” said Nash, Member of Parliament for Parkdale-High Park, located in the old city of Toronto west of downtown.
During the Throne speech last fall, the government promised copyright reform, under pressure from industry groups to ratify the World Intellectual Property Organization copyright treaty, which Canada signed in 1996.
The treaty requires “legal remedies against the circumvention of technological measures (e.g., encryption) used by authors in connection with the exercise of their rights” to license, collect and distribute royalties for their works. It is designed to provide copyright protection not only to authors and musicians, but also to software writers and those who compile databases.
At the time, the Prime Minister was Liberal Paul Martin, who led a minority government. Bill C-60 also provided for sanctions against anyone who offers a service designed to circumvent TPMs, where that person “knows or ought to know” the service would result in copyright infringement. The bill was never passed into law because Martin’s government was defeated.
Three years later, despite pledges to address the lack of updated copyright legislation, the minority Conservative government delayed legislation.
“I wondered from the beginning whether the government was serious about actually seeing copyright legislation go forward,” Angus said. “Bringing it in in the dying days of June when they had the entire year to bring that legislation forward had my spider sense tingling.”
On June 12, Industry Minister Jim Prentice tabled Bill C-61, which took a much different approach from Bill C-60.
Bill C-61 would make it illegal to circumvent or bypass technologies that control access to protected material, and it would become illegal to provide, market or import tools designed to enable circumvention.
The Industry department said at the time the bill has “important limitations” on technical protection measures “to address potential concerns over their impact on freedom of speech, privacy and ‘follow-on’ innovation.” This includes provisions that allow reverse engineering, security testing and encryption research.
But IT security experts told ComputerWorld Canada they were concerned the exemptions would no go far enough.
At the time, the spokesman for the Digital Security Coalition, Brian O’Higgins, said exemptions could become out of data after a few years because technology changes rapidly.
IT World Canada then started an online petition, asking the government to prohibit the circumvention of technological measures only in cases where the party is circumventing them for the purpose of copyright infringement.
One reader who signed the petition is Ted Ma, engineering manager at Arcturus Networks Inc., a Toronto-based manufacturer of embedded modules
“One of the next projects we were looking at was going to be video and that may kill a lot of what we are allowed to do,” Ma said of Bill C-61. “A lot of open source has ways to circumvent the current digital rights that are on there. A lot of open source we would not be able to use without sitting there stripping it all out, which would make the end product less compelling.”
Another reader who signed the petition is Dwayne Wedman, Manager of Red Deer, Alta.-based Pilot Network Services.
He was concerned Bill C-61 was focused too much on the TPMs and not enough on illegally selling copyrighted works.
“We don’t seem to be promoting consumers rights,” Wedman said. “We’re always writing protection legislation to protect businesses. Consumers seem to be getting the short end of the stick.”
We’re always writing protection legislation to protect businesses. Consumers seem to be getting the short end of the stick.
Geist believes politicians have learned a lot of lessons from the debate.
“I’m optimistic in the sense that I think that more politicians today recognize the extent to which Canadians are concerned with this issue than was the case six months ago,” Geist said. “No matter who forms the government, one would hope that many of those concerns would be taken into account this time around.”
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