Canada’s New Copyright Bill: The Good, The Bad and The Undecided

After three failed attempts over the past seven years, copyright changes are coming to Canada. Bill C-11 enters the final stage of committee review next week, and after that it’s all-but-guaranteed to pass into law. As Michael Geist puts it, “while there will still be some additional opportunities for debate—third reading in the House of Commons, Senate review—the reality is that next week’s discussion will largely determine the future of Canadian copyright law.”

The bill as written is nowhere near as damaging as SOPA/PIPA or even the DMCA, and it has significant bright spots, such as extending Fair Dealing (our comparatively toothless version of Fair Use) to include parody, satire, education and non-commercial remixes and mash-ups. But it does include one big problem: an anti-circumvention clause that, like the DMCA in America, will make it illegal to break copy protection even for the purposes of legal copying. This makes no more sense under Canadian copyright law than it does anywhere else: if the act of copying is legal, why should the means to do so be illegal? The Canadian Library Association has proposed a common-sense amendment to the so-called “digital locks” provision, clarifying that circumvention is only infringing if it is “for the purpose of an act that is an infringement of the copyright”. It makes no sense to exclude such a requirement.

The other major concern is the amendments requested by content industry representatives, which if accepted would turn C-11 from a relatively tame bill into a monstrous cousin of SOPA/PIPA. Proposals include notice-and-takedown systems, graduated response from ISPs, website blocking provisions, warrantless access to subscriber information, and many of the other worst parts of SOPA/PIPA and the DMCA. Additionally, the licensing agency Access Copyright is opposing the bill’s expansion of Fair Dealing, and even trying to go in the opposite direction and scale it back.

All these proposals will be reviewed by the committee in a “clause-by-clause” review of the bill. For Canadians who value progressive copyright and a free and open internet, the good news is that most of the bad amendments will likely be rejected, both because the committee members are well aware of the massive public backlash against SOPA/PIPA, and because many of the proposals are not the mere “technical amendments” that are permitted at this stage. But there are no guarantees, and that means that now is an essential time to make your voice heard, and ensure that the right decisions are made about the future of Copyright in Canada. We must let our representatives know that we support common-sense changes to the digital locks provision, and oppose the SOPA-fication of the bill by industry groups, as well as the attack on Fair Dealing by Access Copyright.

Geist has provided a convenient list of e-mail addresses for all the committee members, and Open Media’s Say No tool allows you to contact your Member of Parliament—though it does not allow you to enter a custom message, so I recommend finding and contacting your MP directly. I also hope that American and international readers will not see this as a purely Canadian issue: it is, in fact, a part of ongoing American efforts to introduce stronger copyright wherever possible. Canadian copyright legislation has been largely driven by U.S. interests and pressure tactics like the USTR’s Special 301 report. You can be confident that if the American government gets its wish and Canada enacts harsher copyright laws, they will soon be pushing to “harmonize” the law and bring the same restrictions back to the U.S.

In many ways, Canada is benefitting from the fallout of the SOPA/PIPA protests, which is helping to shield us from the worst of the proposed changes—but that cannot be an excuse for complacency. If we make the effort to fix the problems with C-11, and push back against industry proposals that aim to inject it with new, bigger problems, we can emerge from this process as an example of the right way to approach evolving copyright law.

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