Canada needs common sense copyright reform

It all started at the end of last year when rumours of an impending Conservative government copyright reform bill started making news in the blogosphere. Industry watchers, who were able to get a sneak peak at the bill, compared it to the much-criticized U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act — a comparison stemming from speculation that the bill contained anti-circumvention provisions for technical provision measures (TPMs).

Government opponents have argued that if brought to the House of Commons and passed, the bill would essentially make it illegal to modify, improve, back up or make products that interact with any devices outfitted with a TPM.

So, if you thought all this hoopla around copyright only concerned music and movie downloaders, you might want to think again. The issue could have profound and far reaching affects on IT and the way you do your job.

You don’t believe us? Well just ask Google, Yahoo, Rogers, or Telus, which are just a few of the many businesses that formed the Business Coalition for Balanced Copyright coalition. The group sent its stance on a variety of key copyright issues to Industry Canada last month in the hopes of having their voices heard. Fortunately for those in the IT field, this influential coalition of companies has the right idea with their proposals.

Ask any IT manager to list the most important aspect of their job and many would answer with something about maintaining security. A law that makes it illegal to remove a digital lock from a piece of technology would provide a pretty simple formula for hackers everywhere in their quest to ruin your day. It wouldn’t be too long until every piece of malware was outfitted with a TPM device, essentially handcuffing IT security experts from cracking the bugs and developing patches.

Our solution to this mess (echoed by many intelligent copyright activists in the field) is actually quite simple: put a reasonable restriction on anti-circumvention of TPMs. It’s all about bringing common sense to the law. The aforementioned business coalition put it best in its position paper when it wrote: “rules prohibiting circumvention of TPMs for copyright infringing purposes should, if at all, only target persons who manufacture or traffic in services or devices whose primary purpose is to permit circumvention on a commercial scale or to the material prejudice of rights holders.”

A piece of legislation that views TPM circumvention in black and white will only harm Canadian industries and consumers, effectively trumping their fair use rights in the process. And fair dealing should be a crucial aspect of this debate as well.

Instead of focusing on the copyright holders, Industry Minister Jim Prentice needs to look at the rights of users. The Supreme Court of Canada has said that users’ rights must be given a large and liberal interpretation under the law. Industry Canada needs to follow their lead, just as many of Canada’s European trading partners have, and entrench broad fair dealing rights into law.

Of course, we are not legal experts, but it would seem that following the lead of the U.S DMCA and its overly prescriptive approach to copyright is the wrong move.

Any historian could tell you that the original intention of copyright laws was to protect researchers and the general public and encourage advances in learning and science. An ill-constructed copyright reform bill would lead us further away from these original principles.

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