Bill C-61 Fails Green Copyright Test

The environment is obviously one of the biggest issues of the moment. The federal political parties are spending their summers trying to sell Canadians on their plans for the future, provincial governments are unveiling regulations to address waste, and local municipalities are getting into the game with increasingly sophisticated recycling programs.  As our environmental policies move far beyond establishing emissions standards or clean-up requirements, law and regulation is increasingly focused on creating incentives for business to reduce polluting activities and for consumers to adopt environmentally-friendly habits.  

Given the desire to re-orient longstanding practices, laws not traditionally considered part of the environmental file should also be examined to determine whether they are consistent with promoting "greener" behaviour.  In fact, Parliament recently passed a new law that tries to embed sustainable development into government policy.  My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) acknowledes that the notion of "green copyright" sounds odd, yet the policy choices found in Bill C-61 disappointingly run directly counter to the current emphasis on the environment.
For example, Canadians trash an estimated 184,000 tonnes of old computers, cell phones, and printer cartridges each year, with many of these items containing potentially hazardous materials such as mercury and lead. In response, the Ontario government recently proposed a new electronic waste fee on consumer electronics to encourage the recycling of older devices. Despite attempts to reduce e-waste, Bill C-61 establishes new barriers to the reuse of electronics.  If enacted into law, it would prohibit the unlocking of cellphones, forcing many consumers to junk their phones when they switch carriers (there are an estimated 500 million unused cellphones in the U.S. alone). Similarly, the U.S. version of Bill C-61 has resulted in lawsuits over the legality of companies that offer to recycle printer ink cartridges.  In one lawsuit, Lexmark sued a company that offered recycled cartridge and though it ultimately lost the case, the lawsuit created a strong chill for companies set to enter that marketplace.

Bill C-61 also creates new barriers in the race toward network-based computing, which forms part of the ICT industry’s response to the fact that it accounts for more carbon emissions than the airline industry. Network-based computing – often referred to as "cloud computing" – benefits from the efficiencies provided by large computer server farms that are often situated in close proximity to clean energy sources.  Network experts argue that Canada could parlay its high-speed optical networks and environmental advantages in the north to become a global cloud computing leader with zero carbon emissions, yet the new copyright bill now stands in the way.  

The bill prohibits companies from taking advantage of cloud computing to offer network-based video recording services (as are offered by some U.S. based providers).  It also stops consumers from shifting their music, videos, and other content to network-based computers, limiting these new rights to devices physically owned by the consumer.  In fact, the bill even blocks consumers from using network-based computer backup services – such as the MobileMe service just introduced by Apple – since multiple personal copies of purchased songs or videos is forbidden.

Canadian politicians entered the summer recess expecting to get an earful about the environment from their constituents.  To the surprise of many, the digital environment has joined the physical environment as one of the hot button issues of the summer. Sources indicate that Industry Minister Jim Prentice received over 20,000 letters criticizing Bill C-61 within weeks of its introduction. Local Members of Parliament such as Conservative Bruce Stanton (Simcoe North) and Liberal Sukh Dhaliwal (Newton-North Delta) have scheduled town hall meetings on copyright in response to constituent concerns, while author and broadcaster Tom King, an NDP candidate in the forthcoming Guelph by-election, has emphasized copyright as a key campaign issue. As Canadians express concern over both their physical and digital environments, many may begin to link the issues by advocating for a greener copyright bill.


  1. Pulling us back to the Industrial Age
    I never thought about the Green issue. This the the single best reason I have seen against C-61.

    I just realized that this bill is not just able copyright.
    The effect of the Bill is to shackle Canadian back down to the physical world against the digital revolution that started 10+ years ago (copyright is just an excuse). This will enable the companies\’s old model to sell us physical media forever.

    It\’s equivalent to like outlawing e-mail in favour of traditional mail & faxes by using spam as an excuse.

  2. Sorry but it’s a crappy reason to reject Bill C-61. Maybe if there was less infringement, there’d be less copying and THAT would result in a greener environment

  3. I thought that I read somewhere that contracts could be used to override the copyright legislation. Since you mention iTunes and backups, I noticed that the Terms of Use (contract) for iTunes allows the user to make backups, and up to 5 copies of each song. All we need now is more vendors to do the right thing and make the legislation irrelevant.

  4. Nathan C.S says:

    Whether there is heavy infringement or not, this bill will force us to take not only a step backwards in terms of our digital uses, but also in how we handle our recycling of older equipment, in fact any bill that impedes the ability to better our way of life should be shot down with extreme prejudice. After all what kid nowadays goes to school with his entire cd tray, and if said cd\’s should end up getting damaged, well there\’s more stuff going into the local landfill.

    On a side note I believe in my heart that anyone who comes forth and tires to defend this bill is simply someone who has an extreme $ interest in seeing passed.

  5. @please
    errr @please ….how the heck do that work ?

    I am lost.

    how do me copying files from the CD (I legally brought) onto my PC (which would be infringment/circumvention under C61 if said CD is locked)result in polluting the environment?

    how do me not being able to unlocking my old, perfectly fine cell phone to reuse with a different carrier (which is also circumvention) make the environment greener?

  6. green
    Dont forget recycling footage / music also voids the need to spend carbon….

  7. digital greenery
    It strikes me that the public at large is a very important contributor to future methodologies. File sharing networks have been major trend setters for some time, and our experince with them will be the foundation for many aspects of our digital future. This includes commercial and public softwares and organizations. It also includes piracy, but to a large extent “we the people” are deciding ourselves how the future will operate. This is a good and democratic thing.

    Now, it should be obvious that we are figuring out how to completely eliminate the vast majority physical distribution. This is the way of the future. It can be nothing but good for the environment. Packaging, transportation, brick-and-mortar outlets, all being replaced by less wastefull practices. Do you remember the “paperless office”? I do, and it was a worthy aim. We can do the same to DVD’s, CD’s, and many paper publications. Sure it means some economic changes, but that’s the future anyways. It may as well include as little plastic crap as possible.

    I think Michael is spot on the money with this criticism. C-61 is dinosaur poop. Too bad it’s still freshly steaming. Let’s bury it.

    61 reforms are not enough.