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

from the now-is-the-time-to-speak-up dept

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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Comments on “Canada's New Copyright Bill: The Good, The Bad and The Undecided”

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Anonymous Coward says:

I am a member of the Canadian military. Part of my job, as expalined to me through regulations and by both my current superiors and instructional staff on training courses, is to defend the right of Canadian citizens. Yet when the rights of Canadian citizens are threatened, I am no longer legally able to take action, or even openly protest. I understand the need for the military to be apolitical and I agree that we should be. But being apolitical does not mean standing idle while the free rights of our citizens are being eroded. I am by no means advocating any forceful action. All I want is to be able to write to my MP or protest openly as a private citizen. I’d gladly trade our new shiny jets for that basic human right.

Anonymous Coward says:


I just want to say, I’m Canadian and it’s really nice to hear there are members of the military who stand on the side of rights, rather than the side of authority. It’s very refreshing compared to the authoritative, borderline fascist attitudes I have personally seen among many US troops.

I agree, you should be able to get involved in the country’s politics as a private citizen and I don’t really see why you shouldn’t be allowed to. I’d go as far as to say that this is a very serious infringement of rights that you should normally have.

If Canadian troops ever raise this issue publicly and attempt to change this policy, I will gladly give them my support.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

The digital locks provision makes no sense at all as those intent on “piracy” will break them anyway. Those, like me, intent of making archival copies will do so anyway.

As Leigh says only technical amendments are allowed at this stage and things like Access Copyright’s demands are not of a technical nature but would significantly change the bill.

It could be lots worse but this is also the same government that is determined that we’ll get ACTA’d so I’m not sure it makes all that much difference. We’ll have to see what the courts say, I guess.

I’m more optimistic than I was with the previous attempts and the MPs are very away of the SOPA/PIPA backlash as even backbench MPs want to keep their jobs and that makes things harder for the PMO and the government whip to keep them in line should they want to.

Nic (profile) says:

Actually, I’d like to clarify. It wouldn’t be a monstrous cousin of SOPA/PIPA with all those amendments. It would easily dwarf both taken together.

One of the most ridiculous thing was to watch the non-copyright associations propose completely reasonable amendments (2) to deal with the problem of the illegality of breaking DRM for legal purposes, thus preventing it to be used for education purposes, copying your own stuff, etc… And the other is an amendment to ensure access for the blind.

And then watch all the batshit crazy amendments the copyright associations started proposing. Some of which you didn’t mention or didn’t go into enough detail. Here’s the list:

– A massive expansion of the enabler provision –> The music industry wants to remove a requirement that the so-called pirate sites be “designed primarily” to enable copyright infringement, making pretty much any site with user-content liable for any infringement done, whether intentional or not.
– An extension in the term of copyright from life plus 50 to life plus 70.
– Removal of protections for user generated content, parody, and satire –> Death of Fair Use, basically. (Goes against a Supreme Court decision too)
– Increase in statutory damage awards –> Also mentioned they think there shouldn’t be any limits.
– Extend the private copying levy to include digital audio recording devices –> Yet somehow, make the copying illegal. Why should there be a tax if it’s illegal?
– Website blocking for foreign websites (like in SOPA)
– Lawful access to subscriber information with no court oversight
– Takedown requirements with no court oversight (akin to the DMCA in the U.S.)
– Force ISPs to act as copyright cops

Those freaking loons live in another dimension!

silverscarcat says:


I’d like to point out that any member of the U.S. National Guard or Reserve is more often than not very pleasant to talk to and communicate with and are quite willing, if they had to choose, to stand with citizens over the government.

Their first duty is to protect the citizens of the country, then defend the lands. (The two are very closely linked though)

We saw with the Occupy movement that the military was out there with the protesters and saying that they were doing the right thing.

James says:


Just want to also point out that the bill reads to have a $5000 cap on liability for any person merely infringing for personal use. This is even down from the current $10,000 liability cap. Canada at least has the good sense to shield its citizens from the extreme law suites the US plagues itself with. It would likely cost these organizations well over $5000 just to take an individual to court. Canada’s copyright reform primarily targets the most extreme cases/hubs of infringement. This is still bad for the internet as a whole, but thankfully it doesn’t impact the unknowing home user.

John says:

Re: Get rid of C-11 AND Harper

Not corrupt but certainly servants of the self-serving community. Harper is likely an honest well-meaning politician, but is light years behind what the average canadian is concerned with. Remember in 2007 he was in the process of passing a bill to allow for no-money-down mortgages just before the US economy self-destructed. The same goes for Bill c-11. Swiss leaders have recently rejected copywrite legislation as quixotic, while France is considering repealing their new c-w law. I predict Harper is a one term majority leader. Liberals starting to look tempting again :^)

Richard says:

An argument that has come up before is that fair use/fair dealing does not guarantee a right to access a work, and so it is not a big deal for digital locks to not allow for fair use (or similar copyright exceptions.) In one paper, writen by a third party but mentioned by law professor Jessica Litman, the example was given that fair use does not allow a party to break into an author’s home to take or use the author’s personal copy of a work.

As Litman explained, however, the example of housebreaking (and possibly similar situations) is problematic because a privately owned copy of a work is subject to physical property rights that do not apply in the same way to a copy of the same work in a public gallery, for instance. (Or, for that matter, possibly a copy of the same work at a public library.) Litman’s book “Digital Copyright” (Prometheus Books, 2001) talks more about the history of the US Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) and some of its effects.

Nicholas Gerrier says:

C-11 and other silimlair laws

oddly enough, C-11 isn’t the first law in Canada to make the act of doing something completely legal, while utilizing the methods neccessary to do is is illegal….Prostitution! while it’s techincally legal to do in Canada, running a common bawdy house, accepting payment for services, hiring qualified protection, etc is all illegal….so it’s not like this concept is new to us. lok at marijuana for instance. it’s perfectly legal to partake and to use it, but if you give it, grow it or sell it, you’re breaking the law. how is one to consume without breaking the law, or how is one to sell themselves if they so choose to? these restrictions make it impossible, and therefore infrignge on the rights of those individuals.

BigKeithO (profile) says:

Re: C-11 and other silimlair laws

or possess it. You can be charged for being impaired driving while high, you can be charged for intent to sell, possession of a controlled substance (over a 1/2oz) but it is not illegal to be high (as long as you aren’t driving).


Back to the story, it isn’t like people are going to stop circumventing the DRM on content. This will effect researchers and such more than the common person. Stupid provision all around.

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