Over the past year, I have watched an unhealthy amount of House of Commons and Senate committee hearings. In fact, in recent months I may have watched more of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage than Netflix, given hearings on Bill C-11, C-18, and the Laith Marouf issue. Having watched many hours – and appeared multiple times before that committee and others – it is time to declare the system broken. I’m not sure I have answers, but the starting point may be recognizing that Canadians are not being well served and there is plenty of blame to go around.
The impetus for this post is Friday’s hearing on the Laith Marouf incident. The problems started even before the hearing as the committee voted against asking Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez to appear as part of the study, with some MPs saying they would take a wait-and-see approach. But if government is to be accountable for the disastrous failure for using an anti-hate program to fund an anti-semite, committee testimony should not be something to avoid.
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Canadian anti-circumvention laws (also known as digital lock rules) are among the strictest in the world, creating unnecessary barriers to innovation and consumer rights. The rules are required under the World Intellectual Property Organization’s Internet Treaties, but those treaties leave considerable flexibility in how they should be implemented. This is reflected in the countless examples around the world of countries adopting flexible anti-circumvention rules that seek to maintain the copyright balance. Canada was pressured into following the restrictive U.S. approach in 2012, establishing a framework is not only more restrictive than required under the WIPO treaties, but even more restrictive than the U.S. system.
One of the biggest differences between Canada and the U.S. is that the U.S. conducts a review every three years to determine whether new exceptions to a general prohibition on circumventing a digital locks are needed. This has led to the adoption of several exceptions to TPMs for innovative activities such as automotive security research, repairs and maintenance, archiving and preserving video games, and for remixing from DVDs and Blu-Ray sources. Canada has no such system as the government instead provided assurances that it could address new exceptions through a regulation-making power. In the decade since the law has been in effect, successive Canadian governments have never done so. This is particularly problematic where the rules restrict basic property rights by limiting the ability to repair products or ensure full interoperability between systems.
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