Sparks fly as Ottawa releases new Copyright Bill

The Canadian government, yesterday, kept one promise many had hoped it wouldn’t.

It introduced new copyright legislation that is generally favourable to music companies and recording studios, but has some public advocacy and consumer groups in a tizzy.

The latter are particularly riled at proposed amendments to the Canadian Copyright Act that they see as infringing on the rights of users – Canadian consumers, educators, students and researchers.

These controversial amendments include a “making available” right that grants copyright holders the exclusive right to control the dissemination of copyrighted material on the Internet.

This provision, according to a posting on the Department of Canadian Heritage’s Web site means any “unauthorized posting” or P2P file sharing on the Internet will be treated as “an infringement of the copyright.”

The bill also contains legal protections for technological measures (TMs) – encryption, password requirements and rights management systems. Under the new provisions, any removal or tampering of TMs with a view to violating copyright will itself constitute an infringement. Copyright holders are offered “additional tools” to take legal action against P2P file sharing or “unauthorized” posting of copyrighted material.

The Bill, expectedly, has been hailed by music companies and organizations such as the Canadian Cable Television Association, but has been slammed by public advocacy groups, including the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC).

“This is not a happy day for Canadians,” said CIPPIC director Philippa Lawson. She criticized the bill saying it “calls for a massive transfer of rights and entitlements out of the hands of the Canadian public and into the hands of copyright holders.” According to Lawson, foreign content industries would be very happy with the government’s draft legislation, “as they are the big winners here.”

That’s a view echoed by Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa.

In a blog posting on his site after the legislation was announced Geist noted that lobbying efforts of copyright owners – particularly the music industry – have paid off as they are the big winners in this bill.

The bill, he said, focuses almost exclusively on creating new rights for this select group including legal protection for technological protection measures, legal protection for rights management information, the ability to control first distribution of material in tangible form, new moral rights for performances, a reproduction right for performers, and an adjustment in the term of protection for sound recordings.

Under the proposed legislation, Geist said, Internet service providers (ISPs) would be virtually compelled to notify subscribers of alleged copyright infringements and to retain relevant personal information for six months.

But ISPs, he said, also fare well under the new bill, as its provisions clearly state that they are not liable for caching or other hosting of third party content. ISPs are obligated to send a notice if there is a claim of copyright infringement and retain records that reveal the identity of the suspected violator. However, they are permitted to charge for the service (the government will set the maximum fee).

Geist says the bill provides little solace to millions of Canadians and does nothing to address several key concerns. For instance, he says, greater transparency for Canada’s copyright collectives, “which collect hundreds of millions each year, but provide precious little information (on) how that money is spent or distributed is not addressed.”

A Canadian Cable Television Association (CCTA) spokesperson, however, welcomed the proposed amendments. “The cable industry is pleased that the Government of Canada recognizes that as intermediaries, ISPs have no control over the copyright material that passes over their networks,” CCTA president Michael Hennessy said in a statement.

The bill was also hailed by Canadian Recording Industry Association president Graham Henderson as ushering in “a new era for Canada’s music industry.” He commended the Canadian government “for breaking the log jam and moving this vital legislation forward.”

If anything, he said, the new legislation doesn’t go far enough. “The bill fails to provide digital businesses with adequate protections from hackers, and we believe Internet service providers should shoulder more responsibility for piracy that occurs on their networks.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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