Bell’s PVR Legal Woes the Tip of the C-61 Iceberg

My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) picks up on last week's story involving the Bell commercial touting a new digital video recorder that features an external hard drive permitting users to "record forever." The archiving functionality may sounds enticing, yet last week several media reports noted that Industry Minister Jim Prentice's Bill C-61 forbids Canadians from recording television programs for archival purposes. Indeed, the new "time shifting" provision in the Prentice bill contains at least a dozen restrictions that could leave consumers facing significant liability for those that fail to comply.  Innovative businesses do not fare much better as they will also be forced to shelve potential new services if the bill becomes law.  For example, Bill C-61 explicitly prohibits a network-based PVR that Telus has considered introducing into the Canadian market.  

These restrictions leave Canadians trailing the United States, where consumers have enjoyed the legal right to time shift for more than two decades without the statutory restrictions that Prentice has proposed.  Moreover, earlier this month a U.S. court ruled that Cablevision, a leading cable provider, can legally offer its network-based PVR. While it is tempting to focus on the need to improve the bill's PVR provisions, the reality is that the spotlight on Bell's promotion highlights a pervasive problem within Bill C-61.  Surprisingly for a political party that typically promotes "market based solutions," the bill introduces a complex regulatory framework for everyday consumer activities and represents an unprecedented incursion into the property rights of millions of Canadians.  

Just how far beyond restrictive television recording does Bill C-61 go?
The bill prohibits transferring a copy of most commercial DVDs to a portable video player.  It blocks parents from creating backup copies of their toddler's DVDs.  It precludes audiophiles from making copies of their store-bought CDs into multiple digital formats.  It renders it an act of infringement to transfer music from a copy-protected CD to an iPod. It provides that students violate the law when they by-pass digital locks on electronic books in order to copy and paste a paragraph of text for a class assignment. It stops cellphone users from unlocking their phones in order to move to a different carrier.  It even places backup programs and devices under a cloud of illegality.

Consumer and civil liberties groups have expressed their concern about these effects.  The recent revelations about Bell's PVR raises the question about the corporate responsibility of companies that are effectively downloading legal risk onto their customers by marketing products that could raise the prospect of liability.

Many companies have begun to speak out against the proposed legislation; however, they may need to include more direct warnings with their products.  Bell is certainly free to market the record forever PVR, but surely it should also advise customers that archiving television programs may lead to legal liability if the bill becomes law.  Similarly, as Apple touts the benefits of its Time Machine backup hard-drive, it should also warn purchasers that multiple backup copies of songs and videos would violate Bill C-61.

While the Prentice plan is still at an early legislative stage, consumers invest hundreds of dollars in these products with the expectation that they can use them as promoted for years to come.  Given the prospect that the law could render everyday uses illegal, Canadian consumers should be entitled to know that they may be buying more than they bargained for with their purchases.


  1. Buy a DVD, copy it to your media server or iPod, break the DRM in the process – fine $200,000.
    Buy a foreign DVD, must break DRM region code to watch it, fine $200,00.

    Don’t buy a DVD, just download a pirate copy, put it on your iPod or media server, don’t break DRM – fine $500.

    Stupid Prentice / USA / DMCA / C-61 actually encourages internet piracy.

  2. yes but
    You make valid points when it comes to the provisions in Bill-C61, and while it might make what are everyday activities illegal, who’s going to enforce it?

    I mean are going to have copyright police going door to door ensuring we all have paid for content?

    NATTT, regional codes are not a form of DRM, its a marketing tool to prevent movies from other parts of the world being watched in different markets before it’s released there.

  3. Ed,

    “regional codes are not a form of DRM, its a marketing tool” If by marketing purposes you mean a method of controlling access and pricing then all DRM is for marketing purposes. DRM will never be effective in stopping piracy, it will only stop customers from using the things they have paid for, how they want to.

    “who’s going to enforce it?” What kind of straw argument is this? Really, we should make bad laws and pass them cause they can’t be enforced? Why the hell would we not just make proper laws that respect all involved, not just laws that are nothing more than the media corporations wish list?

  4. Sure region codes are DRM. And it’s got nothing to do with release dates or else back catalogue releases would not have region codes, but they do.

  5. You must be happy, Geist
    Yeah, you must be happy with the cuts to arts funding that your pals in the Langevin block are making. Trade Routes? PromART? Just the beginning, and I’ll bet you’ve got a grin as wide as your ass. After all, these are all moves that track your number one objective: to make sure that creators can’t make a living.

    You think we should all work for free, or some kind of pathetic tip jar. We should all cower at your feet, O Wise Professor, to hear your latest sermon. And when have you EVER said anything in favour of creators getting paid for their work.

    You endorse theft. You oppose any means for creators to protect themselves. So you’ve got to be thrilled with cuts to funding programs. Right? You run your mouth 24-7 on everything else, but you’ve been silent in the face of this conservative jihad.

    So you must like it just fine.


  6. Enforcement
    Who will enforce it? Take your iPod or laptop on a flight to the US, and load some video from a DVD onto your hard disk to watch on the flight. Then present your iPod or laptop to the border security agents for inspection.

    See [ link ] for the US policy.

    Though no formal policy is posted for Canada, it seems the same rules apply (see [ link ])

  7. Michael Geist says:

    Response to Artist

    I’ve referenced both of the cuts by the Conservatives, which I find absolutely shameful. If you look back at my writing, you will find that I support cultural funding. Indeed, I believe support programs are far more effective in the promotion of Canadian culture and artists than is copyright law reform.


  8. pass the bill says:

    pass the bill
    theft the above guy says.
    lets see

    i goto theatre to watch movie
    pop and pocorn 18$

    and who is stealing?

    stomped cd – 20 cents
    artist lucky to get 50 cents per unit AND I MEAN LUCKY
    cost in 2005 before p2p in canada took off:
    futureshop : 29.99 ( cost of the latest cdrs of music)

    now: p2p i have to pay the distribution, i dont need covers and all that, i buy the cdr( oh and yah i pay you a levy on that so piss off its stolen anything)
    i take the time to burn.
    so what should the cost really be?
    maybe 10-20 cents for a movie.
    maybe 5 cents per album and now that we dont need riaa , that 5 cents can go directly to an artist.
    200000 albums downloads would equate to what 10 grand, for doing what, coming up with the tunes and then recording them to a computer

    WHICH BTW any moron now a days can do.
    a 1$ levy on all internet accounts would not be fealt , it would give bell canada’s firewall and rogers one something to do thats more positive ( keep stats )
    and pay artists per download and allow everyone choice of where and how they want to get things.
    1$ btw = 1.2 billion per year where the current levy pays out 60-70 million
    so a nice raise for all……

    P.S. wasn’t advertising on tv supposed ot pay for tv shows, when did that stop happening and as such GET RID A COMMERCIALS IF YOU WANT TV TO BECOME LIKE A MOVIE.
    you dont place commericals every 15 minutes in a movie do you, yet the mpaa would hav eyou beleive that you are stealing tv when you download.

    If you made available a before the show start and maybe after commercials then id use that.

    Why is this poor nothing nobody can come up with the ideas, am i employed to help you all? NO.
    and when i get both rogers and bell ripping me off so much here will be my defence.

    they cant keep contracts to me in good faith so i got my tv elsewhere.
    over priced and under supported is no excuse for breaches of contracts.

    bring the election harper, you done good by riling up the youth and we all know what that means to republican/conservative gov’ts. they go “poof” and devolve into where in democracies they should be , small and insignificant.

    btw if mr geist wants somehting to fight the conservatives in peterborough

    have someone goto alymer street and take a picture of the above ground sewage system that as i saw has a leak,
    while he builds a train system to toronto so he can get more foreign cars into canada, and furthar weaken jobs here.

  9. enforcement is easy says:

    enforcement is easy
    btw you all ask about enforcement

    try the traffic shaping
    it will hten disallow any file that is not authorized by the ISP.

    they can do that.
    They can do a lot more then most think.

    this is why the crtc waits till after the copyright bill passes , because after it passes then the issue of net neutrality is gone, and canada internet will shortly there after , i know of 50 people whom will drop the net. 40 dont do more then 40GB a month( gamers mostly)
    they’d rather like me take a complete year off and see how bell destructs some more.

    if all the highspeed users left the net , what are we left with?
    256Kbit for 75$ a month?
    guess whom is getitng that cash.
    retired teachers, so i am gonna say what you all feel.

  10. Grammarian says:

    Well, it’s no wonder you want to fuck the teachers. They didn’t do much of a job conveying the basics of the English language to you, did they?

    Perhaps, once you’ve cancelled your Internet access in protest, you can profitably put the time to use by taking a remedial English course.

  11. To Grammarian
    Just a friendly tip. Don’t bother too much on that guy’s posts.

    Oh and to artist. You’ve got it all wrong. Michael is simply making the point that the way things are handled isn’t the right way to do these things.

    “Bill C-61 forbids Canadians from recording television programs for archival purposes”
    What is prentice gonna do? Short of hiring some American company to come to everyones house and smash all our VCRs/Tivo n burn all our video cassetes. Tho heck if its good for big corporations in America it is clearly good for everyone in the world right.

    As for Bell, they should have no right to bog down their networks with a PVR network system when they complain about their network being over congested already even tho they are traffic shapeing their traffic and other networks traffic. And for anyone that really thinks 5% of heavy users can use 90% of the networks resources(at 300kBs if you are not throttled) are just fools (if it is true then the network fails to an epic degree).

    If Prentice was really intrested in doing his job he would not be wasteing time on this pointless pro American profits exploitation/extortion bill. I mean really why is a “BROWNIE” in charge of anything, i do not know about anyone else but i do not want a broken BUSHafied system. Prentice can try all he wants but he can not kill video recording… If he expects us to live under the same laws as the USA then i expect him to do something useful for once and get legal alternatives( etc) to work for us and not just the USA. If we have to live under laws they wrote then we should have access to their legit services as well. This bill is stupid unbalanced and a pointless waste of time by our goverment when there is far bigger problems that need attention then if a company can make more theoritcal dollars. No matter how hard Prentice and his lackys try they can not drag everyone back into the 1980s where they would be more comfortable, before there was all this new fangled technology.

  13. Who’s going to enforce it, you ask?
    Just look at all the RIAA lawsuits in the US. The RIAA identifies the infringing parties, shows up in FBI looking jackets with RIAA printed on the back and takes them to court.

    If the RIAA can determine that we’re copying CDs to my iPod (all they need to do is get ISPs required to report downloads of iTunes or 3rd party iPod managers … they’re already trying to get ISPs required to report on torrent downloads), then I have no doubt they’ll be showing up at our doors in CSIS styled jackets.

    Who will enforce it? Copyright holders will.

  14. Name Witheld says:

    What’s Prentice going to do?
    If Bill C-61 makes it illegal to archive TV shows, he’ll say that it’s illegal to sell (or produce) devices that permit such activity. Then Bell updates the firmware on your 9242 PVR & it no longer keeps recorded shows longer than 3 days.

  15. Don McIntosh says:

    Bell PVR
    Hi Michael,

    The catch with the advertised capability of the Bell PVR is that the \\\”extended recording\\\” doesn\\\’t work. I have one of those PVR\\\’s and I have queried Bell about this. They say that a software upgrade will enable it but I wonder if that will ever happen. I have been waiting more than eight months now for a software upgrade to fix the HDMI connection on the PVR. Maybe Bell is holding off to see if the new copyright act is passed. If that is the case they are guilty of false advertising.

    I agree with your points about the new copyright bill. It is far too restrictive and complicated and, like earlier copyright legislation essentially unenforceable at the personal level. What ever became of \\\”fair use\\\”? I know we never had it in Canada anyway.

    Thanks for your good work.


  16. More on enforcement
    The entertainment industry wants to turn ISPs into the police, with them monitoring your internet traffic for potential copyright infringements.

    Download software that enables you to circumvent a digital lock? The entertainment industry wants ISPs to be required to tell the RIAA/MPAA and you can expect to be sued for $20,000.

    [ link ]

  17. Name Witheld says:

    @ Don
    Don, at, lots of people are reporting that the external HDDs are working.

  18. Artist feel entitled.
    A few hours producing something that you call \”art\” does not entitle you to a lifetime free of work. Normal people do things equally or possibly more important than your \”art\”. Things they may not even enjoy doing.

    Stop being so selfish and self absorbed. You are not going to get a free ride anymore. I work in a hospital and if I do an exceptional job on someones colon I don\’t get to retire and get a quarter every time they take a dump. Get real.