61 Reforms to C-61, Day 28: TPMs – Interoperability Exception, Linux and DVDs

The emergence of open source software as a powerful alternative to proprietary software models has been an important business and societal development.  Open source software is today widely used by consumers (e.g., Firefox browser) and businesses (e.g., Linux operating system, Apache web server).  From a policy perspective, the Canadian government's professed goal is to create a level playing field so that the marketplace rather than laws will determine marketplace winners.  It has opposed attempts to create policy preferences for open source (over the objection of some advocates and countries) instead favouring a more neutral approach.

Notwithstanding the claims of neutrality, Bill C-61 creates significant marketplace impediments for open source software.  Achieving a level playing field requires interoperability so that differing computer systems can freely exchange data.  The bill includes an interoperability provision at Section 41.12 which states that the anti-circumvention provisions do not apply to:

a person who owns a computer program or a copy of it, or has a licence to use the program or copy, and who circumvents a technological measure that protects that program or copy for the sole purpose of obtaining information that would allow the person to make the program and any other computer program interoperable.

The problem with this provision is that it does not extend far enough to maintain a level playing field. 

The classic example involves the use of Linux as a consumer operating system (Ubuntu has become a popular version).  Unfortunately, this operating system cannot officially play DVDs since most commercial DVDs contain a digital lock and the entity that controls the lock does not license the necessary locks to play DVDs on Linux.  Programmers have developed alternatives, but all involve circumventing the digital lock, an act that becomes illegal under Bill C-61. 

The interoperability provisions do not help address this issue, since DVDs may not be considered computer programs and many of the circumventing programs have functionality beyond playback of commercial DVDs.  The net effect, as noted by the Canadian Software Innovation Alliance, is that Bill C-61 erects an enormous barrier to open source software adoption, thereby harming innovation and a competitive marketplace.  The solution – as proposed by the Computer and Communications Industry Association in 2000 – is to create an exception the substantially broadens the interoperability exception.


  1. Nathan S. says:

    What I want to know is.
    Was Prentice partially hammered when he cooked up this bill?!, I mean a lot of businesses use Linux simply because of its TCO, they would rather learn and use linux based OSes than hand out cash to Micro$oft every year just to use their PCs’. Also the fact that this bill will basically make using linux illegal for any media is like a slap to the face of the open source community. I sure as hell hope Prentice doesn’t try some stupid legal attack on linux or the community itself cause the SFLC will take him to court.

  2. Stand Up for Canada

    SO I guess it would also be illegal to open a Word File, Powerpoint Presentation, Photoshop File or any other file formats in a 3rd party application

    This Harper Government is the Diefenbaker of the digital age (Dief. killed the Avro Arrow on the wishes of the US Government – destroying Canada’s avaition industry).

    The Harper Goverment is going to kill off made in Canada innovations. Canada will just become the consumer of protected US content.

    Harper should Stand up For Canada!

  3. Re: Stand up
    Mike. I would take it as any file where the format has not been officially released to the creator of the app, or released to the general public. These file formats are considered to be proprietary information. Even the new Microsoft “open office” format has restrictions on use, even though it is accepted as a standard rather than proprietary. In any case, in the past there have been discrepancies between the published format and the actual format… MS Word had that problem at one time when the StarOffice (a precursor to OpenOffice) built its import filter for Word docs.

    As far as DVDs are concerned, who would pay the license for CSS on open source software? The problem is not that Linux itself is unlicensed. The problem is that the open source DVD players are not licensed. This would also apply to ones that operate on MS Windows, OS/X, etc. If someone were to license CSS and sell the application for Linus, it would be legal.

  4. Russell McOrmond says:

    CSS or other DRM license?

    The problem is not that “the open source DVD players are not licensed”, but that they *can not* be licensed.

    The purpose of the CSS license is to allow the Copy Control Consortium to have a contract with the software author to disallow any users of the software to be in control of that software. The definition of Free/Libre and Open Source Software involves licenses which protect the ability of software users to “run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software”.

    In other words, the purpose of the CSS license directly contradicts the definition of Free/Libre and Open Source Software.

    This is the same for any “DRM” — the purpose is to lock the owner of hardware out of their own hardware/software, while one of the explicit goals of FLOSS is to unlock. The economic and other benefits of FLOSS come from computer owners being more in control of their own computing, and the free market around who they hire to do value-add support.

    See the policy summary I wrote for CLUE: Canada’s Open Source association [ link ]