The Hill Times reports this week (issue still not online) that the Conservative government will introduce copyright reform legislation this spring provided that there is no election. The paper points to two main changes from the Liberals Bill C-60 – tougher anti-circumvention legislation (ie. DMCA-style laws that ban devices that can be used to circumvent as well as provisions that block all circumvention subject to the odd exception) and an educational exception that will provide for free access to web-based materials.
If this report is true, the bill will be remarkable in its ability generate more opposition than any prior copyright bill in Canadian history. From a policy perspective, it is a disaster – dangerous and unnecessary laws to support DRM and an educational exception that does little to address the needs of the education community while encouraging even greater use of DRM.
From a political perspective, it is even worse. Who will oppose the bill? For starters:
- creator groups, such as the CMCC, Appropriation Art, the Documentary Organization of Canada, all of whom have emphasized the need for fair dealing reform, not DRM
- copyright collectives, for whom anti-circumvention is a secondary issue and the educational exception will be viewed as a complete betrayal
- the Quebec copyright and education communities, which has come out against the educational exception at both the ministerial and cultural levels
- the broader education and library communities, who (apart from CMEC and AUCC who have spent years lobbying for the educational exception) recognize that the reform does little to address their real needs
- the retail community, who hoped the government would address private copying (as promised in its copyright policy position)
- broadcasters, who hoped the government would address the ephemeral rights issue
- the privacy community, who will fear that the legal protections for DRM will damage privacy rights
- consumer groups, who will note that anti-circumvention legislation has already had a negative impact on basic consumer interests in Europe and the United States
- the Canadian public, who will wonder why it is still unlawful to copy music onto an iPod or record a television show or a create a parody on YouTube
- the NDP
- possibly the Liberals, who will jump at the opportunity to promote their C-60 bill as a better bill
- possibly the Bloc, who will be unwilling to support a bill that includes the educational exception
Who will like it? That's a pretty short list.
- the U.S. government will obviously be pleased about the anti-circumvention legislation, but will quickly adopt a "what you have done for me lately" position by emphasizing copyright term extension and movie camcording.
- CRIA will obviously be happy with the anti-circumvention legislation, but will note that more is needed including a "clarification" of private copying
- CMEC/AUCC will be happy with the provision, but will wonder why students, professors, teachers, and parents are so displeased with the backroom deal they've struck
That's my quick scorecard (if you find yourself represented on the list, consider what you can do about it). It is always challenging to strike the right balance in copyright, but if the Hill Times report is accurate, it would appear that the Conservatives will be walking straight into a bill with little upside and considerable political risk.