Copyright activists want Canada to avoid WIPO treaty

The Canadian government’s affirmation for copyright reform in this month’s throne speech could have implications on technological innovation as well as the open source community, according to industry activists.

At last week’s Free Software and Open Source Symposium (FSOSS) 2007, held at Seneca College’s York University Campus in Toronto, Rory McGreal, associate vice-president of research at online Athabasca University, discussed his growing concern over new copyright legislation as well as Canada’s potential adoption of the World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) copyright treaty.

The international WIPO copyright treaty, adopted in 1996, provides additional protections for copyright due to advances in information technology. A controversial element of the treaty is it prohibits circumvention of technical protection measures (TPMs), a tool used to restrict the use of a digital work, even when such circumvention is legal under fair use rights.

“When you buy property you should own it, but some companies want to remove your property right and control the way you use their products,” McGreal said. “To pretend that the WIPO copyright treaty is a big deal around the world is simply not true as less than 50 per cent of countries have ratified it. It will only stifle innovation and harm the preservation of the public domain.”

McGreal argued that the original intention of copyright laws have been lost with the introduction of TPMs and other U.S. copyright legislation. He said that copyright laws were brought in to protect researchers and general public and encourage of learning and science advancement.

“It was not brought in to protect the author’s rights,” McGreal said. “It’s amazing to me how much copyright controllers have been able to morph a law into it’s exact opposite and have everyone believing that.”

But it doesn’t appear that the government has been listening to McGreal. In this month’s throne speech, the Conservative government prioritized copyright reform to “improve the protection of cultural and intellectual property rights in Canada.” This has led many to suggest that, like the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), Canada could soon have elements of the WIPO copyright treaty entrenched into law.

“The government has always stated that the intention of the next series of copyright reform would be to enable Canada to ratify the WIPO copyright treaty,” Barry Sookman, a lawyer specializing in intellectual property litigation with legal firm McCarthy T

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