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Government May Be Altering Copyright Submissions Without Consent

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Thursday August 27, 2009
The copyright consultation has one of its biggest days today with a major town hall in Toronto, a roundtable hours before, and increased media coverage.  The consultation has attracted growing attention in recent weeks as the chart on submissions below demonstrates.  There are now over 3,000 submissions with the overwhelming majority of them speaking out against Bill C-61, anti-circumvention rules, and for stronger fair dealing (earlier charts here, here, and here).

Unfortunately, the chart is not entirely accurate in part because the government has effectively been altering some of the submissions.  This issue has arisen because of the large number of Canadians that have chosen to use the CCER submission form service.  The service allows anyone to submit their comments by either using a form letter or modifying the content as they see fit.  The government has decided to treat virtually all submissions from the CCER IP address as the form letter and simply added the relevant name to a single copy of the letter (the chart below reflects the fact that each letter is, in fact, an individual submission. Note that this is not limited to CCER, the government is doing the same thing for a form letter from the Canadian Private Copying Collective). I am reliably told that 10 to 20 percent of people who use the CCER site modify their submissions.  The government's approach has wiped out those modifications entirely by adding names to a letter that they did not sign. 

I raised this concern with Industry Canada yesterday.  They responded:

Industry Canada does not alter submissions. They are posted as received. We recognize participants using the form letter may alter the contents of the letter to best express their personal positions and opinions.  Every effort is made to identify variance in the contents of these form submissions. When we receive a form submission which also reflects a personal position, it is posted on the web site as a formal submission, in its original format.

While that may be intent, I have been provided multiple examples of original or modified letters that have not been posted to the site but rather have simply had the authors' names added.  For example [update: for a second example, see the letter posted at the end of this post from Cody Faulker of Barrie, Ontario), Justin Ruf of Yorkton, Saskatchewan, is listed as having signed the CCER letter and does not have an individual submission.  Yet this was his submission (posted with permission):

Dear Ministers,
I am a citizen who cares about Canada\'s cultural policy, and I am writing in regard to legislative proposals for \"copyright reform.\"

During the last Parliament, Bill C-61 provided some very sensible approaches to this complicated topic, but it also left room for improvement. As you consider the issue of copyright reform, I hope that you will work to ensure that any new legislation is not a regression from the sensible policies set out in Bill C-61.

In particular, I do not believe that \"digital rights management\" (DRM) technologies should stop the public from making lawful uses of their legitimately acquired media. Publishers using DRM push aside the delicate balance between copyright and the rights of the public - a balance set according to an assessment of the public interest by legislators - and replace it with one-sided rules that reflect publishers\' private interests. Even artists disagree with publishers\' anti-consumer use of DRM, as evidenced by the recently formed Canadian Music Creators Coalition. Therefore, as in Bill C-61, new copyright reform legislation should not make it illegal to circumvent DRM for lawful purposes.

Canada is going the way of American style DRM and this is a path we should not go down as evidenced that that course they have chosen has been nothing but problems. When I buy a product, ie a DVD/CD, why should I not be able to put that on my computer so I have have a back up copy or to stream it to my TV/sound system? Are we going to start to be like the Americans and start fining Grandparents for downloading a song off the internet, or maybe we could throw teenagers in jail? That would show them! This may sound crazy but it is happening in the USA because of a DRM system that favours Big Business.

This is an issue that a person must know more about in order to understand and I implore you to seek out the information, listen to a podcast on the issue, ask computer users, ask a consumer, ask yourself if you think you should be able to what they want with the things that you own.

These concerns are shared by a substantial and growing number of informed Canadian citizens. I hope that you will take them into account when considering any changes to Canadian copyright law. Thanks very much for your time.

Sincerely,
Justin Ruf

The submission is not even close to the same as the CCER letter, yet the government has listed Ruf as a signatory. In my view, it is the wrong approach for all stakeholders. Every Canadian who takes the time to speak out - whether a single paragraph, a long essay, or a form letter - deserves to have their voice count as a submission.  Obviously any modified letter should be posted in its original form and I would argue that the same is true for a submission based on a form letter.

Regardless of the approach you take, there are just over two weeks to join the thousands of Canadians who have spoken out.  What are you waiting for - speak out on copyright today!

Position
Number of Supporters
Submissions against another Bill C-61 2417
Submissions in favour of shorter copyright term 85
Submissions against anti-circumvention or in favour of limiting DRM/Digital locks 2517
Submissions in favour of stronger personal use/copying and backup protections
2475
Submissions in favour of an “open copyright” system 10
Submissions advocating an end to the Crown Copyright 12
Submissions opposed to adopting an American-styled DMCA 44
Submissions in favour of stronger fair use/fair dealing protections 2061
Submissions opposed to implementing WIPO 8
Submissions in favour of eliminating all copyright
3
Submissions against a three-strikes rule 25
Submissions that favour a “notice and notice” approach
2401
Submissions in favour of instituting a levy for file-sharing/monetizing P2P
19
Submissions in favour of greater exemptions for education/research 25
Submissions in favour of establish a good-faith defence that the user believed their use of a work was fair and non-infringing 2398
Submissions in favour of laws that are technologically neutral
2003
Submissions that argue individuals should be protected from liability as long as their use was private and non-commercial
1965
Submissions in favour of a parody exemption
5
Submissions in favour of ISP neutrality
5
Submissions satisfied with current laws
3
Submissions calling for a strong public domain
6
   
Submissions in favour of stronger penalties for copyright infringement
5
Submissions in favour of turning copyright into a crime 2
Submissions arguing for protection for photographs
3
Submissions against works being available in digital or other forms for free 80
Submissions arguing for more protection for writers and other artists
29
Submissions opposed to creating new exceptions
2
Submissions opposed to an expansion of fair dealing
1
Submissions in favour of notice and takedown
2
Submissions in favour of implementing WIPO
4
Submissions promoting a collective licensing scheme
5
Submissions in favour of anti-circumvention/protecting digital locks
1
Submissions in favour of fining those who violate copyright laws
5
Submissions in favour of halting illegal file sharing
2
Submissions endorsing Bill C-61
1
Submissions proposing the expansion of the private copying levy
8
Submissions in favour of increasing school fees and tariffs for books and photocopies
1
   
Total Submissions
3003

Update: Below is a second example of a customized letter that has not been posted on the consultation site but the author is listed as a signatory to the form letter.  It comes from Cody Faulkner of Barrie, Ontario.

Dear Ministers,

I thank you in advance for reading this letter, it is very important to me that you hear my concerns.
I am worried that this Government may wrongly adopt the American approach to digital copyright law as evidenced by prior draft bills including Bill C-61.

As a consumer of digital media,full time student, and proud Canadian it is my strong belief that myself as well as the rest of the Canadian  population should be entitled to the information and knowledge that is being threatened in the prior mentioned bill as well as numerous other legislation. The follow through of this bill would most certainly lead to further constriction of personal freedom. There is a world of information at our fingertips, and it would be wrongful of this nation to prohibit its access. It appears to me that although the information age is pushing forward at an astounding rate, legislation seems to be moving in the complete opposite direction. Instead of exercising the freedom of this great nation, we have decided to criminalize its citizens.

In no way, shape or form am I personally against copyright law itself, in fact the creators themselves rely on its security to guarantee recognition for their work. The message that I am trying to convey is one of independence. Canada has the ability to set an example for other nations with innovative lawmaking principles, and yet we seem to lose more and more of our individuality with many of the law reforms. The notion of fair use should be front and foremost for future law reforms. Information of all types should be free to use for any non-commercial and non profit reason. Amendments to the Copyright Act need to ensure that statutory damages are limited and users must be protected from statutory damages if the user has good-faith to believe their actions and use of the work in question was fair and non-infringing, or if the user is engaged in purely private and non-commercial activity.

The Copyright Act should be amended to bring the backup copy provision into the 21st century by expanding the right to make an archival backup copy to all digital consumer products regardless of format or media. Technology has its flaws, and loss of information can be avoided.
So I challenge you, and the rest of Canadian politicians to converge and create a new system of copyright in Canada, one that promotes freedom of information, and not its restriction.

Sincerely,
Cody Faulkner



Comments (17)add comment

Anon-K said:

Not to defend...
the government, but did you contact the CCER to confirm that they don't have a bug in their submission page, and that it works, as expected on all browsers? Some have a hard time with javascript, or some pages that are designed for IE.

I use Firefox. When I hit "Add Comment" on this page it takes minutes to get the comment submitted. And sometimes it doesn't show up at all.
August 27, 2009

gov1ns1d3r said:

Look first to thine own self
If the government of Canada wants to start allowing prosecutions of copyrighted work, they ought to tread very carefully. I can say with a very good degree of certainty that many government workers understand the arcane rules surrounding copyright about as clearly as most citizens--that is to say not much at all--and regularly collect, retain, and share copyrighted works on government internal networks without proper protections or attributions.

Would Deputy Ministers be willing to permit CRIA to enforce DMCA-style penalties--with the attendant investigations on private networks that is required in order to locate and confirm infringements of copyrighted work--as the recording industries are proposing they ought to be able to do to private citizens? I think not.
August 27, 2009

Bob Morris said:

...
Two things:

The Government of Canada has copyright licences that cover what is copied and shared, so they do a very good job of respecting copyright.

And secondly, whetehr they get counted as separate submissions or not, form letters with or without changes really do not get treated seriously.
August 27, 2009

David Collier-Brown said:

The CCER and CPCC folks might help distinguish the edits
It might be a good idea to make the edits appear in a different color in a color display, to ease the task of the staff in
the consultancy office. I suspect they don't have a nerd
available to write them a custom "diff" script.

--dave
August 27, 2009

David Collier-Brown said:

The CCER and CPCC folks might help distinguish the edits
It might be a good idea to make the edits appear in a different color in a color display, to ease the task of the staff in
the consultancy office. I suspect they don't have a nerd
available to write them a custom "diff" script.

--dave
August 27, 2009

Justin Ruf said:

Controversy makes the Government act
Well I just checked out the website again that had my name listed and they have quickly taken my name down. I tried the internet archive but could not find an original copy of the website. I hope someone made a copy of that.
August 27, 2009

David Collier-Brown said:

The CCER and CPCC folks might help distinguish the edits
It might be a good idea to make the edits appear in a different color in a color display, to ease the task of the staff in
the consultancy office. I suspect they don't have a nerd
available to write them a custom "diff" script.

--dave
August 27, 2009

Darren Cunningham said:

Director of Communications
Dr Geist,

The consultation process on copyright law provided by Industry Canada and Heritage Canada is to allow concerned Canadians a forum to present their opinions and ideas freely. The process is designed to hear from everyone who wants to offer their opinion in both official languages in a respectful manner.

Our website copyrightconsultation.ca is designed to facilitate the views and opinions of Canadians to impact the shaping of future copyright legislation. Our objective is to accurately reflect the views of those who wish to contribute. The website also allows Canadians the opportunity to read other submissions to understand all sides to this debate. Just like those who read your opinions on your Blog, many Canadians come to ours as a resource on copyright. So I read with some disappointment the allegations posted your Blog that you think the government could be altering submissions to our site. I can assure you and anyone who reads your Blog the suggestion is patently false.

So far the consultation process has been very constructive and positive, with a lot of feedback to consider. Each submission we receive is read by an Industry Canada employee. To date we have received 4226 submissions, we are currently in the process of getting each of these posted to the site. There have been days with well over 500 submissions, so it is possible that human error may have occurred, we are happy to address any mistakes that are brought to our attention to ensure the integrity of the postings.

You allege that IP addresses are not used to sort submissions, again this is false. We welcome all submissions including form letters. Form letter submissions will be posted once to avoid the same letter posted hundreds of times. Our goal is to make the site as user friendly as possible, it is important that all views can be read and nothing inhibits that. To ensure full transparency, any carbon copied form letter submission will have the names of the signatories are added to the original letter.

We are approaching the copyright consultations in the most responsible way. So far, all participants are working with the government in the same manner. Your allegations only distract this important debate away from a consultation that hears from Canadians who are concerned with copyright law.


DARREN CUNNINGHAM
Director of Communications
Office of the Honourable Tony Clement
Minister of Industry & FEDNOR
August 27, 2009

Migzy said:

Darren - what about the two examples included in this post?
If you want to address the issue, please at least try to explain what happened to these two examples and please fix them. Also please offer some sort of evidence that you are looking into what you termed "human error" to prevent more of these mistakes from happening. Those two examples seem pretty concrete and from everything I've read over the last year+, Dr. Geist is not one to publish allegations without some substantial proof.

August 27, 2009

Name said:

Darren - what about using diff?
Diff can compare two texts and pinpoint the differences. If the letter is too different (say 10-15% difference) from the form letter, it should be posted separately.

PS. I love the captcha: "cowboys attorneys"
August 27, 2009

W McLean said:

...
My goodness - what about the submittors' moral right to the integrity of their work? Won't someone think of the creator?
August 28, 2009

W McLean said:

...
My goodness - what about the submittors' moral right to the integrity of their work? Won't someone think of the creator?
August 28, 2009

Gregg said:

Behold, a preview of the new copyright in Canada
Individual: You have no rights.

What you can do about it: Nothing.

What companies need to do: Just accuse, no proof needed, for full siezure, conviction, then destruction of your works.
August 28, 2009

Jason K said:

...
As someone following the submissions here, I think you didn't quite take into account the human equation. When I'm on the site browsing the submissions, I myself tend to skip these form letters when they were posted, without reading them through. Only read the first few lines, and pressed the back button on my browser. I'm pretty sure Prof. Geist that you've done the same.

The important message I think here, is if you want your voice to count or want to add something in, than don't use form letters. Paraphrase these letters and send them in by e-mail don't copy and paste.

Those that have had their works altered, maybe resubmitting the submissions but only with the altered content.

August 28, 2009

Geof said:

Submission guide
This is why the Vancouver Fair Copyright Coalition submission guide emphasizes using your own words. We heard that this was likely to happen. The guide is available at faircopy.ca
August 29, 2009

EK said:

...
If you do not see your submission, or if your submission has been improperly posted - contact Industry right away! Justin, I still don't see your submission; have you contacted them?
September 01, 2009

Richard MJ Rieger said:

Funny, I thought Industry Canada was supposed to post the submissions verbatim...
Now with this information, there is proof that IC does not even follow their own rules (Or the rules are conflicting), and it is up to us Citizens to highlight those flaws. [see article posted here .. http://www.thestar.com/news/ca...ation?bn=1
]
February 11, 2010

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