Nearly 15 years of debate over digital copyright reform will come to an end today as Bill C-11, the fourth legislative attempt at Canadian copyright reform, passes in the House of Commons. Although the bill must still receive Senate approval, that is likely to be a formality that could happen very quickly. Many participants in the copyright debate view the bill with great disappointment, pointing to the government’s decision to adopt restrictive digital lock rules as a signal that their views were ignored.
There is no sugar-coating the loss on digital locks. While other countries have been willing to stand up to U.S. pressure and adopt a more flexible approach, the government, led by Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore on the issue, was unwilling to compromise despite near-universal criticism of its approach. It appears that once Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the call for a DMCA-style approach in early May 2010, the digital lock issue was lost. The government heard that the bill will hurt IP enforcement, restrict access for the blind, disadvantage Canadian creators, and harm consumer rights. It received tens of thousands of comments from Canadians opposed to the approach and ran a full consultation in which digital locks were the leading concern. The NDP, Liberals, and Green Party proposed balanced amendments to the digital lock rules that were consistent with international requirements and would have maintained protection for companies that use them, but all were rejected. Yet with an eye to the Trans Pacific Partnership as well as pressure from the U.S. government and U.S. backed lobby groups, seemingly no amount of evidence or public pressure would shift its approach. The net result is incredibly disappointing with even Conservative MPs assuring constituents that digital lock enforcement against individuals is unlikely (there are no statutory damages for non-commercial circumvention).
Despite the loss on digital locks, however, the passage of Bill C-11 features some important wins for Canadians who spoke out on copyright.