My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, The Tyee version, Ottawa Citizen version, homepage version) focuses on the fact that there is nothing under Canadian law that clearly permits home recording of television programs. I note that TiVo claims that its service is available in Canada, yet few retailers carry the product. In fact, notwithstanding the growing popularity of PVRs and the ubiquity of VCRs – the CRTC estimates that 700,000 Canadian households own a PVR and Statistics Canada reports that over 10 million households have video cassette recorders (VCR) – the absence of the TiVo is not the only difference between the U.S. and Canadian markets. In the U.S., using TiVos and VCRs is clearly legal. In Canada, it is not.
While it may come as news to many Canadians that they infringe copyright on daily basis, those involved in the industry are well aware of this state of the law. The law includes a series of copying exceptions that cover research, private study, and criticism, however, there is nothing that clearly permits home recording of television programs. Indeed, the delayed introduction of the TiVo or the Slingbox, another popular product that allows consumers to transfer their television programs over the Internet to their computer and which only entered the Canadian market last year, may stem in part from fears about the legal climate.
Ottawa has regularly introduced legislation demanded by lobby groups (new laws against camcording in movie theatres and Internet rebroadcasting have been passed over the past five years), yet nothing has been done to address the legality of commonplace, non-commercial activities that affects millions of Canadians.