CAAST hails new beefed-up piracy law

The head of Canada’s anti-software piracy group said new amendments to national copyright laws will go a long way to protecting the software industry.

“We have a good starting point now,” said Al Steel, president of the Canadian Alliance Against Software Theft (CAAST) in Toronto. “We’ve moved (the law) a long way from where it was.”

Last month, federal Industry Minister John Manley and Heritage Minister Sheila Copps announced changes to Bill C-32. The idea is to help those who find their copyrighted material violated to seek heftier damages – and do so more efficiently – than was previously possible.

By far the biggest change, and the one for which CAAST has long lobbied, is the addition of a statutory damages provision. In short, the amount which a copyright infringer must pay to a damaged party is now no longer up to the courts to decided on a per-case basis – instead, the fines are now pre-set, and they can go as high as $20,000.

“So it now sets some expectations on what someone can expect to come out of a civil case, and it also means that [the case] moves forward very quickly,” Steel said.

Previously, the courts required those who had their copyrights infringed to limit damages to the value of the individual software or piece of music, something that was difficult to do and in most cases rarely matched the actual cost to the publisher, Steel said.

CAAST has long held the position that the reason U.S. piracy rates are substantially lower than in Canada – 27 per cent of all software in the U.S. is pirated versus 39 per cent here – is because of tougher statutory damages law south of the border. CAAST says the amendments to Bill C-32 now bring Canada in line with the Americans.

CAAST believes there is a lot at stake; an earlier CAAST-funded study showed that if Canada’s piracy rate dropped to U.S. levels, the software industry would garner another $2.5 billion in sales, and create nearly a quarter-million new jobs.

Also added to Bill C-32 is the so-called “wide-injunction” clause, which allows the courts to prohibit software infringement of all of a publisher’s programs, even if only some of them have been pirated.

“So let’s say an ISP has a pirated copy (of software) on its server. Because it is making copies and people are calling it up, the whole server can be shut down. So there’s some interesting things that could come out of this legislation, especially where we’re now talking about the Internet and Internet copying,” Steel explained.

The third change involves the option for summary proceedings, which Steel says will help publishers move more quickly and cheaply through the court system.

As for the future, Steel said public education is key, and that CAAST will continue in its efforts to teach Canadians about the harm done by software piracy. “The next big step is to continue to educate people on the issue of intellectual property,” he said. “Technology drives us to rethink how we do things.”