Conservatives to the Future: F*ck You

Last Friday, Canada’s governing Conservative party introduced Bill C-61, an Act to amend the Copyright Act. According to a news release from Industry Canada, the bill “balances the interests of Canadians who use digital technology and those who create content … it’s a win-win approach.”

Josée Verner, the Minister of Canadian Heritage added, “Canadians are known around the world for their creativity and ingenuity, and many of their ideas are found in the books we read, the music we listen to, the movies we watch, and the new digital technology we use in our day-to-day lives. Our balanced copyright reform builds on these successes.”

New Restrictions

The provisions of the Bill include:

– A $500 fine for each mp3, video, or other copyrighted item a Canadian is caught downloading. However, the fine may be reduced to $200 for individuals unaware the content they have downloaded is illegal.

A $20,000 fine for each copyrighted item a Canadian distributes over peer-to-peer services, or posts on sites like Youtube or Facebook.

– New restrictions around digital “content locks,” such as DRM technologies in music files. According to law professor Jeremy de Beer, under these new restrictions if a consumer wants to rip a CD to their iPod, they will have to own the CD and keep it indefinitely. If the consumer sells the CD later, they will have to delete its songs from their iPod.

Also, consumers will only be allowed to transfer content between devices they own. As de Beer emphasizes: “technically, [under the Bill’s regulations] you can’t rip songs to your sister’s iPod, nor can your kids load up your Father’s Day gift with any songs before they give it to you.”

For a complete list of the Bill’s dos and don’ts, scroll to the bottom this CTV article.

Opposition and Controversy

Opposition to the Bill has been widespread and fierce. Liberal MPs, whose partisan rhetoric reflected many citizens’ legitimate concerns, called it “a piece of half-baked legislation” that “misleads Canadians who wish to transfer to their iPods the music they bought as digital locks on CDs become more commonplace.”

The Canadian Music Creators Coalition, a group that includes Sarah McLachlan, Broken Social Scene, and Avril Lavigne, released a statement Friday, criticising the Bill for imitating US law rather than offering a “made-in-Canada solution.” The statement further warned that “suing fans is destructive and hypocritical” and “digital locks are risky and counterproductive.”

Experts in the field of intellectual property are similarly upset. Professor Michael Geist described the Bill’s “anti-circumvention provisions” as “worrisome,” and noted that they may lock “Canadians out of their own digital content.” As an example, Geist said that, should the Bill become law, it may be illegal “to play a region-coded DVD from a non-Canadian region.” Professor de Beer offered a similar analysis, saying in the National Post that he hopes “the government listens to the overwhelming outcry against Bill C-61 before the proposal becomes law.”

Most of the protest, however, has been concentrated online. A Facebook group started by Geist called “Fair Copyright for Canada” attracted 10,000 new members less than 24 hours after the Bill was introduced, bringing the its membership to over 53,000 people. “What we’ve seen over the past 24 hours has been nothing short of remarkable,” Geist told the CBC. “Literally tens of thousands of Canadians are speaking out with an element of shock that the government would introduce this legislation in the manner that it has.”

Reaction in the blogosphere has been similar. A post on TorrentFreak, which garnered nearly 2,000 digs, calls the Bill “a shadow” that may dim Canada’s image as “one of the shining lights in the copyright and intellectual property world.” BoingBoing, a “directory of wonderful things,” blasts C-61 for “[importing] the worst elements of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, [and] turning millions of Canadians into presumptive criminals who will be forever at risk of losing their property, privacy and dignity for the “crimes” of posting a clip to YouTube, breaking the DRM on a CD, or using a region-free DVD player.” Yet another blog, Open Source Cinema, voiced their opposition by creating a protest vid. Check it out:

Summer Election

Considering the immense controversy surrounding Bill C-61, many Canadians are wondering what the chances are of it becoming law.

Fortunately, with the summer break quickly approaching, it seems unlikely that C-61 will be seriously debated, or even voted on, in the immediate future. Instead, the Conservative government will probably take the summer months to carefully guage public reaction to their proposed amendments, and, depending on whether the Bill’s opponents can sustain their momentum, decide whether to renew debate over C-61 in the Fall or let it die quietly on the order paper. Alternatively, C-61 would also die if the Opposition decides to use the various methods at its disposal to force an election.

Either way, Bill C-61 will not come into effect for at least several months. So, if you’re a regular downloader/file sharer – get your download on now, ’cause this time next year you may be facing tens of thousands of dollars in fines.

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