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Canada publishes big copyright bill

By | Published on Friday 4 June 2010

The latest attempt to reform Canadian copyright law is under way after the government there published its Bill C-32 yesterday, which aims to revamp copyright legislation in the country and add in a load of new rules specifically dealing with internet-based infringement and digital rights management.

As previously reported, content companies, especially in the US, have been very critical of the copyright system in Canada in recent years, mainly because laws there pre-date the internet and haven’t proven very helpful when record companies have tried to tackle file-sharing through the courts. Prior to the recent Digital Economy Act, the English copyright system, which has a lot of parallels with the Canadian one, likewise relied on pre-internet laws, though English judges, unlike their Canadian counterparts, did choose to interpret existing laws so that non-commercial file-sharing was treated as copyright infringement. This wasn’t always the case in Canada.

Bill C-32 is, by my sums, the third attempt by a Canadian government to bring the country’s copyright laws up to date, amid rampant lobbying by the major content companies. The proposals aim to placate both copyright owners and content consumers and internet service providers, though, predictably, all sides have been critical of some parts of the new proposals.

If the bill becomes law, for the benefit of consumers, so called format and time shifting will be formalised, a wider private copying provision would be introduced, and the adaptation of content in the form of mash-up videos posted on websites like YouTube would be legal even without a copyright owner’s permission, providing the mash-up maker had non-commercial motives. So called fair-dealing provisions (similar to the US concept of ‘fair-use’) would also be extended to include parody and satire, and some educational uses of copyright material not currently covered by fair-dealing.

The bill also proposes a more formal system for copyright owners to alert websites and internet service providers that they are hosting content that infringes their rights, though this system – while having parallels with the take-down procedure under the US’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act – is seemingly less draconian that the American process, putting less onus on net firms. Elsewhere ISPs get protection against being held liable for the infringing activities of their customers, measures which parallel to and extent the DMCA’s safe harbour clauses.

For the content owners, there is clarification that file-sharing type activity constitutes infringement, plus there are pretty hardline rules that outlaw the cracking of DRM systems. While possibly of more interest to the film, gaming and software industries these days, it would, for example, make it illegal to crack into a YouTube player and take a copy of the soundtrack from a music video. The enforcement of DRM systems is the most controversial part of the bill as far as the consumer rights lobby is concerned.

The Bill doesn’t propose extending the levy that exists on blank CDRs and cassettes to digital devices like iPods. The existing levy goes to artist organisations and is designed to compensate said artists for people making private copies of their music. The private copy right is extended in the bill, but the levy system is not. Of course, the revenues a levy on CDRs creates is very much in decline as most people make private copies of CDs they buy onto their PCs and digital music devices instead. As previously reported, a Democrat MP in the Canadian parliament, Charlie Angus, introduced his own copyright bill earlier this year proposing such a levy extension, though his private member’s bill is unlikely to be passed. 

Whether the Canadian government’s big copyright bill makes it onto the statute book remains to be seen. From the response of various content industry, artist and consumer groups to the proposed legislation yesterday, much debate is still to be had and lobbying to done before any of this becomes actual law.