Canadian Copyright Reform Bill Receives Royal Assent and Reflections

After years of back and forth between the Canadian public and the Canadian government and foreign interests, Canadian copyright reform has received royal assent. While many things were tossed out over the years, the controversial digital locks rules is what managed to hang in there. I also take the time to reflect on the long and drawn out battle for digital rights in Canada through the copyright reform process.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

Canadian copyright reform has been the big issue I’ve followed since I first started writing file-sharing news clear back in 2005. The only issue that I can recall that comes closest to this would be the issue of Canadian privacy and surveillance legislation. If you’re one of the few that have followed Canadian copyright reform since the days of Bill C-60, you’ve pretty much seen my entire career as a journalist. Being one of the key players along with Michael Geist, CIPPIC, Russell McOrmond, Canadian Digital rights advocates and several others to raise awareness about this (and, yes, having to deal with people who say I focused too much on Canadian issues in the process), I have to say that seeing this law pass is bitter sweet.

On the plus side, just looking at what was in Bill C-60, you can see how many, what I personally say are, bad provisions. The original, what many call, the Canadian DMCA, was called the Canadian DMCA for a reason. It was practically a carbon copy of the US DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act). Not only did it have the anti-circumvention provisions, but there was a strong potential that it could have been changed to include a notice-and-takedown system as well as potentially opening the floodgates to Canadian file-sharing lawsuits if lobbyists influenced lawmakers enough. Obviously, thanks in part to the hard work many of us have done over the years, a lot of the really bad ideas being floated never made it.

Of course, the downside to all of this. The digital locks rule remained intact for the most part. Many have focused on the consumer aspect of the digital locks provision which leads to the question of enforceability. Are the authorities going to come busting down your door because you circumvented the digital locks of a legally purchased CD to put the music on your computer? Obviously, this is a very impractical prospect. Unfortunately, what is lost on a lot of people is the message it sends to innovators in Canada. If you want to be innovative with how you can use your legally purchased content, the Canadian government in enacting anti-circumvention laws is saying, “You have no place in Canada.”

With the chilling effect the anti-circumvention laws have in Canada, I think this copyright reform bill is also very anti-climactic. This is because we have the comprehensive European Trade Agreement (CETA) on the horizon (it was, at one point, rumored to contain a one strike policy for copyright infringement. There’s also the Anti-counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) which also still threatens to undermine the positive progress the Canadian copyright reform law has made. Among the concerns are the possibility that ISPs would have to police the Internet looking for copyright violations. Then, of course, there’s the biggest threat of them all, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) which has a proposal of including SOPA-stye censorship of websites as well as a three strikes law. For me, looking at all of these threats to any positive progress Canadians have had on the copyright profile, it’s like, “Well, so what? Just because we managed to get copyright laws that have some hint towards sanity doesn’t really mean anything when these treaties will make those positive steps that were made null and void.” You could say that after a long hard fought battle between Canadians and foreign interests for more than half a decade, the two sides have earned a stalemate for now. Unfortunately, Canadians also have to be on their guard as we see these treaties come down the line.

So it’s bitter sweet seeing the Canadian copyright reform bill receiving royal assent. It isn’t the Canadian DMCA it once was, but the battle is far from over.

Reflections on a History of Covering the Copyright Reform Legislation In Canada

It’s an interesting feeling. After roughly seven years of covering things like this, I actually am typing out “Canadian copyright reform bill receives royal assent.” In an odd way, I spent my entire writing career knowing this day would come. I just never anticipated I would wait a whole seven years before writing words like that. For a number of reasons, this development gives me personally a sense of nostalgia because it helped to define my entire career in the process.

Towards the beginning of the copyright reform process in Canada, the major concerns were what could have been put into the law. It was a major concern because, back in the beginning, fewer Canadians were even aware that copyright reforms were happening in the first place. Meanwhile, organizations like the Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA) had a lot more sway on these issues. People like us were on pins and needles throughout the process because Canada could have had a very draconian copyright law so early on. We didn’t have the likes of Anonymous back then nor did we have the Canadian Pirate Party (or the Pirate Party in general) to really spread the message that Canadians should have a voice in this whole copyright debate. In 2005, Twitter wasn’t a major vehicle for activism (and neither was Facebook for that matter). The Canadian media barely even understood what this thing called “the Internet” was all about and copyright wasn’t even on the radar. At most, you’d get reporters asking if it’s “right” to download music for free because that was the extent of their knowledge on these issues for the most part. In fact, when the media caught wind that a movie was posted somewhere online (which was happening a lot anyway), it was big headline news that, shockingly, a major popular movie was posted on the Internet. In fact, even the science barely understood what this phenomenon of file-sharing was all about. Look back at our studies. I can only count two of them that were published in 2005 or earlier. So, you didn’t really have much in the way of independent research. The numbers came almost exclusively from organizations like the RIAA and MPAA. All you had were advocates and reporters like us. That was it.

In fact, I remember Michael Geist way back when hauling a whole team of academics to the front doors of the parliament building to plead the case for fair and more balanced copyright reforms as a way to gain awareness for the issues back in the beginning. That really helped set the standard of the whole issue of taking concerns about copyright to the government. Since then, there have been numerous events that happened along the way. There was the infamous bumper stickers of “pro-user zealots” (in reference to comments made by Sam Bulte), the Balanced Meal where newly formed copyright activist organizations would fill the parking lots of a restaurant where Minister Sam Bulte would, an hour later, have expensive dinners with lobbyists to discuss future copyright laws. The activists would simply visit at a restaurant nearby and discuss a more balanced approach to copyright. There was the mass exodus of Canadian record labels from CRIA thanks to a difference of opinion on copyright. There was the campaign known as the “Save the Music Fan” campaign that was put together by major Canadian record label Nettwerk to try and put a stop to any potential litigation against file-sharers. There was, what many called, the propaganda campaign by Access Copyright which featured the infamous cartoon character Captain Copyright. There were the protests on Parliament hill that happened over copyright reform concerns in the following years. There were cases where ministers in charge of copyright reform would get mobbed in their ridings with people asking about copyright reform. There were video campaigns when YouTube became popular. Podcasters would ask questions about copyright reform (and sometimes get hung up on by the minister in question in the process in true Conservative Party fashion). There were the consultations and ultimately the big consultation which sometimes became controversial with its handling. In retrospect, while the Canadian copyright reform process was very long and very stretched out, it was also a very rich history filled with ups and downs. It was a treat being able to watch this process from practically the very beginning all the way up to the very end.

So, while a chapter is closing, the battle over copyright laws is far from over. Still, loo at what Canada has now. Michael Geist is practically a household name amongst academics, followers of copyright and technology enthusiasts, CIPPIC (Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic) is now monitoring the court system for anything that might affect consumer rights (and has intervened a number of times), Howard Knopf is an additional lawyer who is also watching copyright issues closely (known for his the Canadian Pirate Party who often chimes in on issues that sometimes fly under the radar. In addition, Canadians can turn to Twitter and Facebook to spread the word on some of the most concerning issues.

So, while Canadians didn’t kill off the anti-circumvention laws in the copyright reform bill, I think Canadians should be proud of the accomplishments that they did achieve. Canadians prevented the mass litigation campaigns of the record labels. Canadians have successfully kept the three strikes law out of Canada. Canadians prevented any legislation that would have forced ISPs to monitor their networks for copyright infringing activities. Canadians stalled the dangerous anti-circumvention laws for seven years. Canadians blocked the notice-and-takedown regime that has plagued the US for years. Canadians took concerns about online rights and turned it into a political movement. Canadians refused to bow to pressure from the US through the years of being placed on a questionable Special 301 priority watchlist. While some may argue that the copyright reform bill that was ultimately made into law was disappointing, I think that ignores a lot of Canadian achievements that took place as well. I, for one, am glad to have been a part of it all. Great work, Canada!

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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