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New Canadian Anti-Piracy Bill Stirs Controversy

| 13 Jun 2008 14:00
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A new bill introduced by the Canadian government has drawn praise from the Entertainment Software Association of Canada, but many other groups are criticizing it as a bad idea.

Bill C-61 explicitly details consumer rights with regard to how they are allowed to copy various forms of media, many of which currently exist in legal grey areas in Canada. According to a CBC report, the new law would allow consumers to make one copy of each item, such as books, music, videocassettes and photographs, per device owned, and would specifically legalize the recording of television and radio broadcasts for later viewing or listening.

But controversially, the bill also contains an "anti-circumvention clause" which criminalizes the act of bypassing "digital locks" on copyrighted material. Critics say that part of the bill could render all other aspects meaningless, since CD and DVD makers and television producers could easily introduce copy protection that would prevent music or television shows being recorded. Bypassing any of these protection schemes could lead to lawsuits of up to $20,000.

Joan Ramsay, president of the Entertainment Software Association of Canada, praised the bill as an "essential" measure. "It's simple: Every time someone acquires an illegal copy of a videogame, money, in turn, is not going to those Canadians who work so hard to develop and publish games," she said. "That's money that cannot be reinvested in creativity, job growth and industry development. Copyright reform is essential to strengthen our competitiveness as an industry."

Numerous others have spoken out against the proposed law, however, with many comparing it to the oft-criticized Digital Millennium Copyright Act in the U.S. University of Ottawa professor Michael Geist, who organized a Facebook protest of more than 20,000 people against an earlier attempt to introduce the bill in December, said, "They've got a few headline-grabbing reforms but the reality is those are also undermined by this anti-circumvention legislation. They've essentially provided digital rights to the U.S. and entertainment lobby and a few analog rights to Canadians. The truth of the matter is the reforms are laden with all sorts of limitations and in some cases rendered inoperable."

Geist leveled criticism at the government for discussing the matter with U.S. trade representatives and entertainment industry lobbyists, but not holding any public consultations in Canada. "[Minister of Industry Jim] Prentice should be honest about the core anti-circumvention rules that are likely to mirror the DMCA and run counter to the concerns of business, education and consumer groups," he said. "Those rules are quite clearly 'Born in the U.S.A.'"

Liberal industry critic Scott Brison also questioned the government's failure to seek consensus with Canadian citizens and organizations, and expressed concern over how the law would be enforced. "There's no excuse for why the government has not consulted broadly the diverse stakeholders. The government has not thought this through," he said. "It has not thought about how it will enforce these provisions. There's a fine line between protecting creators and a police state."

A number of consumer groups, including Option consommateurs, Consumers Council of Canada, Public Interest Advocacy Centre, the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, and Online Rights Canada, joined the opposition to the bill, while Mark Hayes of the intellectual property group Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP said electronics consumers could be hit with extra charges by copyright owners seeking compensation for copied materials. "Owners of computers and iPods could end up paying quite a bit more for those products in the future," he said.

The full text of Bill C-61 is available here.

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