30 Days of DRM – Day 30: Prohibition on Contractual Circumvention of Rights (Foundational Issue)

Yesterday's post identified the availability of circumvention devices as a one foundational issue. The second foundational issue is protection against contracts that seek to trump the law by contracting out of the copyright balance or, in the event that anti-circumvention legislation is introduced, statutory circumvention rights.  The use of contractual terms to effectively void privacy protection or basic user rights has become all too common with cases such as the Sony rootkit providing a classic example of how contractual terms that quash important legal rights are buried beneath the "I agree" button.

Governments are understandably loath to intervene in privately negotiated contracts.  However, not every contract or contractual term is enforceable –  there are certain terms (and certain contracts) which run counter to important public policy goals that will often be rendered unenforceable by a sympathetic court.  On this particular issue, we should not wait for the courts to intervene.  Rather, Canada should identify the core protections and policies that underlie the copyright balance and establish rules that prohibit attempts to "contract out" of such terms. 

The copyright lobby will obviously object, arguing that this constitutes an inappropriate intervention into the market.  Yet anti-circumvention legislation is also an intervention into the market.  I remain steadfast against such legislation (even more so having completed 30 days of discussion), however, if anti-circumvention legislation is to become part of the Canadian legal landscape, then this tradeoff must be part of the bargain.  If the copyright lobby wants its anti-circumvention rules, it must also accept statutory limits on the contractual terms associated with their use.


  1. The same should be true of all copyright provisions. s. 89 needs to be beefed up, in the name of balance, to ensure that paracopyright doesn\’t do an end-run around copyright. (This means, you, National Archives.) In any event, given federal legislative competence over copyright, a contract that purports to give or withold greater rights in the nature of a copyright, than what the Act itself grants, is likely on flimsy ground to begin with, though it hasn\’t been probed much in Canada.

  2. Jhonny Pabón says:

    Orden Publico
    Es fundamental establecer normas de orden publico referidas a las MTPs, pero además tener claridad sobre cuales normas de derecho de autor son de orden publico, y por lo tanto presentan limitaciones a la autonomia de la voluntad en materia contractual. En paises como Colombia de una tradicion juridica Romano-Germanica, donde las excepciones al derecho de autor son taxativas, este punto es realmente importante.
    Felicitaciones por estos 30 días de DRM.

    Jhonny Pabón. Bogotá-Colombia.