By Eric Pettifor
A new copyright bill has been introduced into parliament today, Bill C-32. I nearly wrote “anti-copyright” bill because, while I like the original idea of copyright, most of what governments have done to it in recent decades has been to its detriment.
The idea behind copyright was that all creative works belong in the public domain. There is no so called “intellectual property,” that being a weasel term to try and get people to believe that copyright means ownership. It doesn’t.
The concept of copyright was created to grant creators of original works a limited duration monopoly on those works to serve as both reward and incentive to create further works. It was not created in order to allow Disney to make millions off of a cartoon rodent in perpetuity, nor to similarly allow other corporate conglomerators of media to live fat off of old stuff — that’s totally opposed to the original intent of actually encouraging the creation of new stuff.
From the sound of it, this new bill could be worse than it is. It doesn’t add yet another extension to the term of copyright, doesn’t add more levies to media or players of media (though the blank CD levy remains in place), it does explicitly recognize some fair use concerns, such as creating not-for-profit “mashups” from copyrighted works, as well as allowing format transfer, time shift, and backup (not that the current law necessarily disallows these).
The major downside to the bill is that it seeks to protect digital restriction management schemes (DRM, or “digital locks”) from being broken. DRM is a flawed idea which hands all control over the media to the copyright holder (or, let’s get real, to the media corporation, since generally creators of “DRM worthy” content do not retain the copyright and should be grateful for whatever crusts the corporation throws). In some cases this would render the positive aspects of the bill moot. What good is the right to be able to transfer your content from one media to another if the original media contains DRM which prohibits copying? If you crack the DRM in order to exercise your rights under the law you will be breaking the law. Or as Michael Geist puts it:
The foundational principle of the new bill is that anytime a digital lock is used, it trumps virtually all other rights. This means that both the existing fair dealing rights and Bill C-32’s new rights all cease to function effectively so long as the rights holder places a digital lock on their content or device.
DRM is flawed in so many ways it would take an entire series of articles to go over, so I’ll simply point to this rather extensive “briefing” by Cory Doctorow, and encourage you to google if you want more, because there’s lots out there.
The only other point I’ll emphasize because it is so incredibly relevant to the original concept of copyright is that some forms of DRM which require connection to server to grant access are essentially a kill switch on your content. When that server is no more, because the company folds or decides it’s no longer worth its while — bye bye content. Unless, that is, you crack the DRM, but under this law that would be illegal. Again, this is your content — public domain once the limited monopoly expires. If anything, we need legislation against locking people out of what should eventually be theirs (or with the current law, their kids’ or grandkids’).
The only reform that Canadian copyright law requires is a shortening of the duration of copyright back to original levels. People need to wake up to the bullshit of “intellectual property,” demand that copyright represent a limited monopoly as originally intended, realize that ultimately, beyond that limited monopoly, this stuff is all OUR property, and tell anyone who tries to put locks on it to piss off. You can find the contact information for your MP here. At least email, but be aware that hand written letters may make a stronger impression.
Copyright law as it exists currently is not worthy of our respect. The law this new bill proposes is even less so.