Bill C-60 A Missed Opportunity

My regular Law Bytes column (freely available hyperlinked version, Toronto Star version, homepage version) examines Bill C-60, Canada's new copyright reform bill. I argue that the bill represents a missed opportunity.

While some of provisions strike an admirable balance, those that are ostensibly designed to facilitate technology-based education and the digital delivery of library materials fall far short of their goal by hobbling any new rights with suffocating restrictions that render the provisions practically useless.

For example, Bill C-60 purports to promote Internet-based learning by permitting schools to communicate lessons featuring copyrighted materials via telecommunication. The bill quickly restricts that new right, however, by forcing schools to destroy the lesson within 30 days of the conclusion of the course. Moreover, schools are required to retain, for three years, records that identify the lesson as well as the dates it was placed on a tangible medium and ultimately destroyed.

The library provisions are even more onerous, turning librarians in digital locksmiths, who are ironically compelled to restrict access to knowledge in order to provide it. The bill allows libraries and archives to provide digital copies of materials, however, in order to do so they must limit further communication or copying of the digital files and ensure that the files cannot be used for more than seven days.

The column argues that we can do better. In the short term, the provisions in Bill C-60 that seek to facilitate knowledge distribution through digital networks should be amended by removing the restrictions that have been placed on educational institutions and libraries.

Long term, the column identifies alternative reforms that would better facilitate access to knowledge and the potential of the Internet. These include creating a national digital library, moving toward a fair use model, and providing more active support for the public domain.

While copyright is frequently characterized as a battle between creator and user interests, policies such as these that seize technology and Internet opportunities generate benefits for all constituencies including greater exposure and income for creators, increased access to knowledge for users, and economic growth for the broader Canadian economy.

The most disheartening aspect of Bill C-60 is that there is so little in it that unifies technology with culture and education to the benefit of all. Rather, the potential of the Internet is viewed as a threat, leading to legislative provisions that will leave Canada looking on enviously at other countries that courageously put the public interest first.

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