Bill C-11, the copyright bill that will allow Canada to accede to an international copyright treaty that will improve access for the blind and visually impaired, was fast tracked on Tuesday with unanimous approval to consider the bill read, studied, and passed three times. There will be no House of Commons committee hearings on the bill, which now heads to the Senate for approval. The bill received first reading at the Senate today. With no hearings and little debate, the bill will pass quickly without any changes. I wrote about Bill C-11 last month, noting that it is a positive step forward but that some provisions may be unduly restrictive when compared to the implementation approach recommended by some copyright groups.
One of the most notable provisions (which was raised by Carla Qualtrough, the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities) is that the bill amends Canada’s anti-circumvention rules by expanding the exception on digital locks. NDP MP Charlie Angus, a veteran of the copyright battles on Parliament Hill, seized on the issue to ask whether the government would address the remaining digital lock restrictions. The answer from Minister Qaultrough: yes.
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As the political world was focused on the Liberal government’s inaugural budget last month, Navdeep Bains, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, introduced his first bill as minister by quietly moving ahead with plans to reform Canadian copyright law to allow for the ratification of an international treaty devoted to increasing access to copyrighted works for the blind.
The World Intellectual Property Organization’s Marrakesh Treaty expands access for the blind by facilitating the creation and export of works in accessible formats to the more than 300 million blind and visually impaired people around the world. Moreover, the treaty restricts the use of digital locks that can impede access, by permitting the removal of technological restrictions on electronic books for the benefit of the blind and visually impaired.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that the Canadian decision to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty is long overdue. The Conservatives announced plans to do so in last year’s budget but waited to table legislation days before the summer break and the election call. With that bill now dead, the Liberals have rightly moved quickly to revive the issue.
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Canada’s new copyright notice-and-notice system has been in place for less than a week, but rights holders are already exploiting a loophole to send demands for payment citing false legal information. Earlier this week, a Canadian ISP forwarded to me a sample notice it received from Rightscorp on behalf of BMG Rights Management. The notice, which is posted below with identifying information removed, must be forwarded to the subscriber or the ISP faces the possibility of statutory damages of between $5 – 10,000. Rightscorp announced that it was entering the Canadian market last year, so its participation in the notice-and-notice system is not a surprise. What is surprising is that the company has brought its model of issuing demands for payments to Canada by warning of U.S. damage awards and Internet termination in order to stoke fear among Canadians that they could face massive liability if they refuse to pay.
The notice falsely warns that the recipient could be liable for up to $150,000 per infringement when the reality is that Canadian law caps liability for non-commercial infringement at $5,000 for all infringements. The notice also warns that the user’s Internet service could be suspended, yet there is no such provision under Canadian law. Moreover, given the existence of the private copying system (which features levies on blank media such as CDs), personal music downloads may qualify as private copying and therefore be legal in Canada.
In addition to misstating Canadian law, the notice is instructive for what it does not say. While a recipient might fear a lawsuit with huge liability, there is very little likelihood of a lawsuit given that Rightscorp and BMG do not have the personal information of the subscriber. To obtain that information, they would need a court order, which can be a very expensive proposition. Moreover, this is merely an allegation that would need to be proven in court (assuming the rights holder is able to obtain a court order for the subscriber information).
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Last week, negotiators from around the world gathered in Ottawa for negotiations on the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement. I was fortunate to be asked to meet with many of the intellectual property negotiators as part of a side session sponsored by the Electronic Frontier Foundation on the copyright implications of the agreement. EFF’s Jeremy Malcolm and Maira Sutton write about the event here, which also included Howard Knopf and Open Media’s Reilly Yeo.
My presentation, embedded below, focused on the Canadian notice-and-notice rules for Internet service provider liability. The government recently announced that notice-and-notice will take effect in January 2015. I explained the background of the Canadian approach, how it differs from the U.S. notice-and-takedown system, and how experience demonstrates its effectiveness.
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The government today announced that there will be no additional regulations associated with the notice-and-notice rules that provide rights holders with the ability to have Internet providers forward notifications to subscribers alleging infringement. The government had delayed implementation of the rules amid a consultation on the issue. The notice-and-notice system does not require the ISP to disclose the subscriber’s personal information to the rights holder nor to takedown the content. The system, which other countries are now considering due to its effectiveness, is set to take effect on January 1, 2015.
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