Can Canada Find a Middle Ground on Copyright?


The Canadian government, in an attempt to bring the country’s copyright legislation into the 21st century, has tabled its own version of the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The government says the proposed bill, called the Copyright Modernization Act, strikes a balance between the rights of content creators — that is, the music industry, movie studios, etc. — and the rights of individuals who want to use their content in a variety of ways: for example, copying downloaded music to a portable device, or using content for educational purposes. But is such a balance even possible? And if it is, does the proposed legislation accomplish it? In its current version at least, the answer appears to be no.

Critics of the bill, including law professor and copyright expert Michael Geist, say the current version of the legislation — which has been in the works for over a year — gives content creators a trump card that renders the new freedoms for users effectively meaningless. The bill states that if content is locked in some way, through digital rights management (DRM) software protection or some other electronic method built into the product or device it comes on, it’s illegal to break that lock or find a way of extracting the content even for purposes approved under the act.

In other words, even though the bill expands the “fair dealing” protections under Canadian law (fair dealing is Canada’s version of fair use) — by saying that digital content can be used for educational purposes, for parody or satire, to “time-shift” or otherwise copy content, and even allowing users to remix user-generated content for personal purposes — none of these protections are allowed if they involve getting around the digital locks on a piece of content. If a teacher were to extract music files from a copy-protected CD for use in class, for example, he or she would still be liable for that copyright infringement.

Even the Canadian government’s own Industry Minister, Tony Clement, admitted that he regularly rips CDs of music and copies those files to his iPod — behavior that’s illegal under Canada’s current copyright law and wouldn’t be protected under the new legislation if the CD were encrypted. A representative of the Canadian Pirate Party told the website TorrentFreak that the bill “represents a gross disregard of consumers’ free will to control what they rightfully own, through banning the bypass of ‘DRM’ controls placed by big industry.”

Since the bill hasn’t become law yet, there is still the chance that the government can be persuaded to alter the legislation, although it’s likely to face significant pressure from content companies not to do so. The previous version of the bill — which didn’t contain as many exceptions for personal use and other purposes, and was seen by many as a carbon copy of the U.S. DMCA — was withdrawn by the government in 2007 after a public lobbying campaign against it, orchestrated in part by Prof. Geist. After the bill was removed, the government held a series of public meetings across the country to survey opinion on copyright law.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d): Why Viacom’s Fight With YouTube Threatens Innovation

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Horia Varlan



By middle ground, do you mean between citizens that make up the electorate in Canada and those that have influence from “other means”?

Sanjay Maharaj

The interestinG thing to watch for will be to see how it is implemented and enforced. How will the Government track the teacher who extracted music from the CD for her music class? How many individuals will the Government run after and enfroce this?


There are no prohibitions in C-32 to prevent people from extracting music from a CD. As a matter of fact, extracting music from a CD for a classroom presentation is arguably illegal under the current Copyright act.

Under the provisions of Bill C-32, it would actually become legal to do this.

The bill deserves credit for creating a number of consumer friendly defenses to infringement. The downside is that a content creator or distributor can prevent the consumer from taking advantage of these provisions by employing DRM.

DRM as a business model in the music industry may have already met its demise with most of the online music sales occuring in a DRM free context today, but the fear is that other media will now ensure that content for sale in Canada will remain DRM protected. This effectively moves consumers from being purchasers to being licensees.

My great fear is that while there are a great number of things to fix in the legislation, calm and reasoned voices will be drowned out by people who want no protection for the content creators and say that “information yearns to be free”, and that these individuals will flood inboxes with form letter emails that are accusatory and offer no constructive feedback.

I encourage anyone interested to review the actual legislation and to think about the ramifications. I think that the government may actually be willing to listen. Let’s not miss the opportunity.


Unfortunately, the only thing New this Bill tables is the ability for a copyright holder to sue for damages if circumventions of DRM have taken place even if the circumvention is to commit perfectly legal acts.

Canadians are currently covered under ‘fair dealings’, this bill simply makes DRM legal for legal actions.

If this Bill C-32 really were to bring the Canadian Copyrights into the 21st Century, they would have made DRM illegal to block the rights of Canadian Citizens.

This Bill is like a magic trick. You are allowed to fair dealings with copyrighted material, but only if you never touch it.


This is essentially the Canadian Recording Industry Association Copyright Bill. The CRIA essentially wrote this bill.

This Bill strips the rights and freedoms of Canadians to the fair use of purchased copyright materials simply to make the CRIA litigious department a bigger part of what recording is all about.

There are no solutions being brought forward in this bill for canadian citizens.

It is hard to believe it took over a year to write this bill, but I suppose starving lawyers need their work.

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