The Needles

The Needles: Goodbye, Mr. (Mod)Chips

Andy Chalk | 13 Jul 2010 21:00
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Criminality is relative, of course, and you might think that as long as you keep things low-key, nobody's going to bother with you. You're probably right. But bear this in mind: First, if someone does decide to bother with you, you're screwed. A conviction on indictment can bring a fine of up to $1 million and five years in the slammer. And second, it's going to be a lot harder to break those laws in the first place, at least for casual consumers, because the bill also makes it illegal to provide, via the internet or through other means, any service designed primarily to enable acts of copyright infringement. In other words, you can kiss your modchips goodbye, no matter what you ultimately do with them.

The solution is obvious: Modify the TPM clauses to allow for circumvention in cases where it doesn't lead to infringement. But there's no sign that the government is even considering such a move. Grassroots efforts like SpeakOutOnCopyright.ca are doing their best to make the case to the Canadian public but the government is pushing back with shockingly inflammatory rhetoric. In a recent speech, Heritage Minister James Moore, an ardent champion of the bill, called opponents "radical extremists" who "don't believe in copyright at all" and presumably seek to create some sort of intellectual property Wild West.

In reality, opposition to the TPM clauses in the bill is spread across an enormous range of interests, from the Canadian Association of University Teachers to Loading Ready Run, but the government is like a dog with a bone; Bill C-32 is its third attempt at copyright reform since 2005. The real problem, however, isn't the government's determination to hammer this bill through, it's the utter indifference of the average Canadian consumer. I'm loathe to say "most" because I don't have statistics to cite but I'd be willing to bet than an awful lot of Canadians aren't even aware that this is happening and that among those who are, a significant portion simply don't care. Look at it this way: In two months, an internet petition against Bill C-60, the original "Act to amend the Copyright Act," managed to garner all of 1800 signatures. By way of comparison, a petition calling for the release of a collector's edition of BioShock rang up 14,000 signatures in just 24 hours.

There are areas of concern in C-32 that go way beyond the scope of mere "gamers' rights" to include access to educational materials, high-level research, library lending and software interoperability. As University of Ottawa professor and noted copyright critic Michael Geist pointed out, Linux users could suddenly find themselves unable to legally play DVDs on their computers. "This operating system cannot officially play DVDs since most commercial DVDs contain a digital lock and the entity that controls the lock does not license the necessary locks to play DVDs on Linux," he wrote. "Programmers have developed alternatives, but all involve circumventing the digital lock, an act that becomes illegal under Bill C-32."

With so much happening on the Canadian political scene - economic instability, the mission in Afghanistan, an increasingly fragmented and deadlocked Parliament - it might be hard to imagine copyright reform as a Big Issue. Don't be fooled. The digital era is here and the impact of our reaction to it will resonate for years. Contrary to what Minister Moore claims, most of the people who stand against Bill C-32 agree that a modernized copyright law is both necessary and welcome. But criminalizing wide swaths of the Canadian public as part of that process is most definitely not.

Andy Chalk, contrary to occasional opinion, is not a stooge of The Man. Bill C-32 is available in its entirety at the Parliament of Canada website (PDF format).

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