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Copyright Choices and Voices

Last week, I delivered an hour-long speech on copyright to the Canadian Federation of Students (the slides are here and posted below and a podcast is here).  Since the audio on the podcast version of the talk is poor, I want to reiterate my central message.  In the past, I have spoken frequently about the opportunity for Canada to make its own choices on copyright reform.  After highlighting the remarkable array of new developments for content creation, content sharing, and knowledge sharing, I have emphasized the need for copyright laws that look ahead, rather than behind.  In particular, I have pointed to the dangers associated with anti-circumvention legislation, to the need for more flexible fair dealing, to the desirability of eliminating crown copyright, and to the benefits of open access and open licensing.  I typically conclude by stating that this can be Canada’s choice and that we must choose wisely.

This speech had a different conclusion, however.  Sometime over the next two or three weeks, Industry Minister Jim Prentice will rise in the House of Commons and introduce copyright reform legislation.  We can no longer speak of choices because those choices have already been made.  There is every indication (see the Globe’s latest coverage) this legislation will be a complete sell-out to U.S. government and lobbyist demands.  The industry may be abandoning DRM, the evidence may show a correlation between file sharing and music purchasing, Statistics Canada may say that music industry profits are doing fine, Canadian musicians, filmmakers, and artists may warn against this copyright approach, and the reality may be that Canadian copyright law is stronger in some areas than U.S. law, yet none of that seems to matter.  In the current environment and with the current Ministers, politics trumps policy.

The new Canadian legislation will likely mirror the DMCA with strong anti-circumvention legislation – far beyond what is needed to comply with the WIPO Internet treaties – and address none of the issues that concern millions of Canadians.  The Conservatives promise to eliminate the private copying levy will likely be abandoned.  There will be no flexible fair dealing.  No parody exception. No time shifting exception.  No device shifting exception.  No expanded backup provision. Nothing.

The government will seemingly choose locks over learning, property over privacy, enforcement over education, (law)suits over security, lobbyists over librarians, and U.S. policy over a “Canadian-made” solution.  Once the bill is introduced, look for the government to put it on the fast track with limited opportunity for Canadians to appear before committees considering the bill. With a Canadian DMCA imminent, what matters now are voices. It will be up to those opposed to this law to make theirs heard.

Update: Many people have asked what they can do to make their voices heard on this issue. Last year, I posted 30 Things You Can Do about anti-circumvention legislation.  Many of those recommendations still apply, starting with a letter (letter, not email – no stamp required) to your Member of Parliament, the Ministers of Industry and Canadian Heritage, and the Prime Minister.


  1. So what’s the correct path one should follow to voice their opposition to this?

  2. IT guy
    What can we do as concerned citizens to prevent this law from passing?

  3. ConcernedChris says:

    whats the best way for Canadians to make our collective voices known on this issue?

  4. If we were hoping for an enlightened reform of outdated laws, I’m afraid we will be very disappointed.

    My expectation was that a minority government would be more inclined to listen to the voting public, but apparently sucking up to U.S. government and lobbyist is the preferred policy.

    Unfortunately, if the government does follow through with US style regulation, the result will not change the digital communications evolution, instead it will just result in the pointless persecution of a few luckless “offenders”, to satisfy Big Media’s demands.

    The genie is out of the bottle, and will not go back.

  5. I agree with those who ask about how to oppose this. We compensate the CRIA wtih the levy. The government had studies that states that these laws aren’t needed. I am an open source advocate, I use open source products continuously but this law will make things amazingly difficult for things like home brew software. Prof. Geist, if you’re reading this please tell us how we can oppose this in a rational and effective manner. This isn’t what I voted for. I hope for everybody’s sake, it doesn’t pass.

  6. Michael Geist says:

    What You Can Do
    I’ve posted an update that responds to the question about can be done –

    “Last year, I posted 30 Things You Can Do ([ link ]) about anti-circumvention legislation. Many of those recommendations still apply, starting with a letter (letter, not email – no stamp required) to your Member of Parliament, the Ministers of Industry and Canadian Heritage, and the Prime Minister.”

  7. Edward Palonek says:

    Michael, I saw you on BNN the other night and you have nailed it back then. I would like to add that: Bottom line – the industry does not even realize that in the long term this legislature will hurt the artists, thus cutting of the hand that feeds them. Also some folks seem to fail to realize that this the record label’s industry fight for survival. With the ever increasing online distribution channels the consumer desires the presence of a physical item(like a CD,dvd) less and less. And thats what this in large part is all about, online distribution rights and the control of independent sites ability to distribute content.
    [ link ]
    Edward Palonek

  8. It seems apparant they will force this bill through in the form the Americans want. Will this make thousands (or more) Canadaians criminals immediatly? i.e. Those (like me) that have already removed user restrictions from the hardware they own? The “content owners” and the Goverment can call it anti-circumvention all they want, it’s only intent is to control what a user does, and to make them pay more for less.
    If this does make thousands of Candaians suddenly criminals, what recourse do we have?

  9. 30 Days

    Could you please update the “Online Rights Canada” letter? It still wants to CC to Bev Oda, who is no longer the Heritage Minister.


  10. In Laymen’s terms
    I’m in tech, not marketing. Can someone give me examples that I could use to sell this to my surroundings, where everybody would immediately get what the issue is all about?

  11. Is there a proposed Bill Name and or Number for this piece of legislation yet? They would be very useful parts of any letter written to an MP.

  12. The current Minister of Canadian Heritage\’s contact info:
    The Honourable Josée Verner
    Minister of Canadian Heritage, Status of Women and Official Languages
    House of Commons
    Ottawa, Ontario
    K1A 0A6

    Canada\’s Minister of Industry:
    The Honourable Jim Prentice
    C.D. Howe Building
    235 Queen Street
    Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0H5

  13. Speak with your wallet?
    There is another way you can help.

    Enforcement of DRM does not mean that all content must use DRM. Since DRM products are crippled by design, just don’t buy them. That is a really important way you can help!

    I know that DVDs have encryption, and Linux users have to use “circumvention” techniques in order to watch their own DVDs that they purchased at the store. If “circumvention” for legitimate use becomes explicitly illegal here in Canada, then I guess I might just be throwing out my DVDs, and never buying any new ones. They would be useless for me anyways.

    Also, if you haven’t heard of the Free Software Foundation (, they are an important group that is running a campaign against DRM. You can see their campaign website here: [ link ]



  14. This is nothing more then the US corporations coming into Canada yet again and trying to enforce their “right to make infinite money” on us. Why should I have to buy a copy of a dvd or cd for every device I own? If my xbox eats my 70 dollar game, why the hell do I have to go out and buy a new one? I enjoy my format shifting thank you very much. And I will continue to do it if this law is passed. Put me in jail with our other harmless criminals, the pot smokers! We need to go after REAL criminals

  15. Activism
    Wow, I really want to take up this cause. Is there anything else someone can do other than mail couple letters? Where can I find more information about this bill?

  16. Gordon Haverland says:

    Copyright was invented at a time when it was expensive to duplicate objects and there was significant barrier to entry for people wishing to publish. Neither situation is true today (except possibly with statues).

    I do think creators should have rights to control copying, and hence some kind of copyright legislation needs to exist. However, I think a great many of the problems will go away if the creators (the people with intellect/intelligence) can not sell or assign away their ownership. They get the copyright on creation, and the copyright reverts to the state (Crown) after some set lifetime has been passed, or the creator dies.

    That should get a lot of the corporate influence out of the system, which may cause things to become more rational. Who knows, it’s a big change to ask for.

  17. That’s entertainment
    When we get a bunch of new criminal offenses, GAM and CBC will cover it in their “Entertainment” section, and NP and CTV will present it as getting tough on crime. Sigh.

    Who are the Heritage and Industry shadow ministers? I’d be real happy just to hear a question asked in the House one day…

  18. I seem to remember
    I seem to remember Ambassador Wilkins telling Canada not to try to tell America how to run their country. At least that is how it got reported in the press.

  19. So sad
    Wow. I feel like someone just punched me.

    I really want to cling on to the false hope that this will somehow not pass, but the cynic in me can just feel that this will not be the case. There has to be some way to raise public awareness, but what can you really do when media outlets will no doubt present a biased interpretation of the facts….

  20. Mr.
    This is definately something to take note of.. but personally, I think it’s a little premature to be taking action by writing to MPs, etc. We don’t even have the text of the bill yet – we know nothing of the details. And as they say – particularily relevant in this case – the devil is in the details.

  21. Concerned Canadian says:

    This is very worrisome. Will you post a petition as soon as the bill is tabled? Print sample letters? Is there an organisation in Canada which works for individual users’ rights as the EFF does in the US? Can I volunteer my time or make contributions for some such worthy organisation?

    What can I do to prevent the passage of a bill that serves no purpose other than consolidating profit and power and diversifying the means of prosecution for most ordinary Canadians?

  22. Saddened Citizen says:

    Michael, thank you for raising this major threat to our consumer rights. I have to agree with a previous comment about feeling as though I’d been punched.

    Our government is supposed to be representing its constituents and not the lobbyists and republicans of our nearest neighbour.

    Do any other readers know of any web bulletin boards that are being used to consolidate our voices?

    Thanks again Michael

  23. For those in Calgary, you may be able to talk to Jim Prentice face-to-face at this:

    Holiday Open House
    Join Jim and Karen Prentice at the Constituency Office for some holiday cheer!
    Date: Saturday, December 8
    Time: 1:00pm-3:00pm
    Where: Constituency Office, Suite 105, 1318 Centre Street NE
    Donations for the Calgary Inter-Faith Food Bank will be accepted.
    For more info, call the office at 216-7777

  24. Andrew Butash says:

    Michael, I am writing letters to my MP along with the ministers involved and the PM himself, however something else has me extremely concerned. This reeks of the old negotiation tactic of ask for way more than you really want, then dial it back until you get exactly what you want. If this bill is revealed to truly be as bad as it sounds, I wonder if that is purposely so. Is their endgame actually to have this atrocious piece of legislation fail, only to cut back on the demands and appear to concede, when really the labels end up with exactly what they want? I guess only time will tell, but it seems worth noting here (and in the letters you send) that not only is this proposal outrageous, but that we will not stand for any negotiations in the interest of foreign powers at the expense of the Canadian people.

  25. Poll is needed
    Michael Geist what you should do is a Poll on how many canadians buy more then 100 Blank media Disks and 2 or more Harddrives a year and calculate that into how much the Copyright tax is and come up with a number of how much Canadians have paid into the copyright tax (Levy)

  26. open access to debate?
    Thank you Michael Geist for your activism and your knowledge. This is an important matter that affects not only artists but also academics, educators, and other critics of the plutocratic system that is overtaking our liberal democracy.

    That being said, I find it somewhat ironic that in order to participate in this debate on copyright we must register our voices on Facebook. An American company that has no qualms selling your personal information to advertisers to boost their profit margin.

  27. Thanks for bringing this up… I’ve sent e-mails and letters to Jim Prentce, Gary Lunn (my MP), and Stephen Harper. Here’s the text of my letter. Keep up the good work!

  28. Ubuntu Jihad says:

    This affects those confined into a Microsft Windows Operating System
    I think these laws on copyright and trying to impede the wheel of technology are just a show to keep lobbyists on the job.

    All this technology stuff affects windows users – I am on Ubuntu, and I say the government should make the the laws as ridiculous as possible.

    I don’t think we should worry about music copyright, who listens to Canadian music anyway, our focus should be towards the communications industry and trying to get more VOIP out there and better cellphone service.

  29. baidu

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