With the tabling of Bill C-61 in the Canadian Parliament, I’ve become concerned with the lack of a concise set of “talking points” that summarizes the ramifications of the bill in plain language. This post attempts to capture such a set of talking points for review by the copyfighter community at large. Keep in mind that this document must provide a rational argument against C-61, as a fact-based, non-emotional debate is key to our success in defeating C-61. If you have additional points or comments, please add them in the comments and I’ll integrate them as appropriate.
This document is designed to provide you with a concise set of talking points to use when educating your friends and informing your Member of Parliament of the wide-reaching ramifications of Bill C-61 on consumers’ rights.
What is C-61?
Bill C-61 is a federal bill that has been introduced in the Canadian House of Parliament by Minister of Industry Jim Prentice and Canadian Heritage Minister Josée Verner to reform the Canadian Copyright Act. It is designed to, among other things, “update the rights and protections of copyright owners to better address the Internet, in line with international standards”, “permit certain uses for educational and research purposes of Internet and other digital technologies to facilitate technology-enhanced learning, inter-library loans, the delivery of educational material and access to publicly available material on the Internet”, and “permit certain uses of copyright material for private purposes”.
Why is C-61 bad for Canadians?
The bill faces criticism for several reasons, including the lack of public consultation on the matter by the government, as well as the appearance that the bill is the result of heavy lobbying by the US media industries to replicate the United States’ Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). In particular, the bill replicates provisions making it illegal to circumvent digital rights management (DRM) technologies used to protect copyrighted materials.
The bill is bad for Canadians for a number of reasons:
- It reduces your rights: Consumers will continue to be able to use copyrighted materials for research, private study, criticism, review or news reporting, but will no longer have the means to exercise those rights when the copyrighted materials are protected by DRM.
- It reduces the usefulness of your media: Consumers will no longer have the right to take commonly purchased physical media, such as DVDs, or downloaded DRM-protected files, such as digital music, and make copies for their personal use.
- It forces you to buy media you’ve already purchased: Consumers will be unable to unlock media they’ve legally purchased in the past for use on new devices, and hence will be forced to buy the same content again and again.
- It makes your devices less useful: Consumers will be able to do less, not more, with new devices they purchase, as many of these device may, at any time, limit the user’s access to media they have a legal right to view, modify, or redistribute.
- It reduces competition and innovation: Consumers will be unable to influence the market by finding new uses for their existing media and copyrighted materials, limiting the application of ingenuity that can lead to the creation of new applications and markets for Canadians and the world.
- It makes the public domain works inaccessible: Consumers will have the right to re-use works in the public domain, but in cases where those public domain works are protected by DRM consumers will not have the means to exercise those rights and hence lose access to their own heritage.
What won’t I be able to do under C-61?
The following is a short list of the potential ramifications of C-61 on your rights to use your legally purchased media. Under C-61, you will not have the right to:
- Make backups of your DVDs: Let’s say you’re a parent – don’t you want to be able to make a copy of the DVDs you purchase for your kids so you have a way to easily replace the movie when they get their peanut butter-covered hands all over them? Doing so would require you to break the copyright protection software on those DVDs. Under C-61, it will be illegal to do this – instead, you’ll have to buy a whole new DVD.
- Move your media to other devices: Let’s say you’ve purchased a shiny new digital media gadget for your home entertainment center – wouldn’t you like to be able to fill it with content you already own, such as DVDs, CDs, or music you’ve legally purchased from online services? If that media is protected by DRM, C-61 makes it illegal for you to copy this data – you will only be able to use your media on devices that support the media’s DRM format. If your new device doesn’t support some (or all) of your existing content’s DRM technology, you’ll have to purchase it again.
- Use your media in perpetuity: Let’s say you purchased a movie or a song from an online service – don’t you expect to be able to keep using that movie or song forever, even if the online service goes out of business? If your media is protected by DRM that contacts a server to authorize your access and the service goes out of business, you will no longer be able to access media you legally purchased. Under C-61, it will be illegal for you to break the DRM to access the media you legally purchased.
- Exercise your rights to fair dealing: Let’s say you’re a student doing a documentary and want to use some video in your documentary which falls under Canada’s fair dealing doctrine allowing use of copyrighted materials for research, private study, criticism, review or news reporting. Under C-61, you will not be able to exercise your rights to include the video in your film if the video is protected by DRM. In essence, you have the right use the video, but no way to do so without breaking the law.
- Re-mix DRM-ed public domain materials: Let’s say you’re working on some cool photo montage that takes photos from the public domain and re-uses them in some new and interesting way. If the photos are stored in a DRMed format, you can’t access them without breaking the law under C-61. Again, you have the rights to use the photos, and in fact they’re a part of the public domain and belong to humankind as a whole – you just can’t exercise your rights.
- Unlock your phone: Let’s say you’ve been lusting after a new phone, but it’s only available for another carrier. If that carrier has “locked” the phone to restrict it to their network, you will not have the right to unlock the phone to work with your current carrier. While this is not specifically forbidden under C-61, a carrier could argue that unlocking a phone circumvents of a copyright control, which would be illegal under C-61.
- Use all of your phone’s features: Let’s say you realize your phone has some really cool features that the carrier decided to disable. If you employ software tools to re-enable these features, it could be argued that you are circumventing a copyright control, which would be illegal under C-61. You paid for the device and all its features, you just aren’t allowed to use them.
- Remove DRM software: Let’s say you’ve purchased a CD that has DRM on it and you decide to play it on your computer – isn’t it fair to assume that you have the right to uninstall any software the CD installs on your system? Under C-61, disabling or uninstalling this software may be illegal. Your computer is no longer yours to control.
This sounds alarmist – aren’t you over-reacting?
The outcome of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in the United States over the past ten years, coupled with the actions of media corporations, has illustrated the ramifications of overly restrictive copyright law on the rights of consumers. Here are some examples of the egregious behavior that has resulted from the DMCA and the industry’s insistence on the use of DRM technology:
- Consumers unable to access media they purchased legally: A number of online music services have closed up shop, leaving consumers without the right or the means to access they legally purchased. Examples include the closure of the MSN Music store, the closure of the Sony Connect Music service, and the closure of Google’s Video Store. In all cases, the user’s were unable to access their media as-is; in the case of Sony, users had to undertake a number of cumbersome manual steps to maintain access to their music, and in the case of Google, users were refunded their money only after a public outcry.
- Consumers unable to use their devices as intended: Some popular digital video recorders include a “broadcast flag” technology desire to allow the manufacturer to limit how long a user may access programs they record, or prevent them from even recording some programs at all. Most recently, NBC accidentally enabled this technology, preventing users of Microsoft’s Home Media Center from recording an episode of American Gladiators.
- Consumers’ privacy and security risked by faulty DRM solutions: In an effort to prevent users from copying CDs onto their computers, some manufacturers have embedded software that is automatically installed on the user’s computer when they insert the CD. This software not only uses up the user’s computing resources, but also reports on the user’s activities to the manufacturer. The most noteworthy example of this is Sony’s use of a DRM system that illicitly installs software on the user’s machine, is very difficult to remove, and sends information to a third-party about the user’s activities.
What can I do to stop C-61?
- Contact your Member of Parliament: Use this document to guide you in outlining your concerns to your local MP. Not sure who your local MP is? Find your MP here.
- Join the Facebook group: Facebook has already been used successfully to thwart anti-consumer bills like this in Canada. Join the Fair Copyright for Canada group.
- Educate yourself, educate your friends: The only way to defeat this is if a large number of Canadians take action to alert ordinary consumers of the threat to their rights. Michael Geist has written a number of good articles on the topic.