This week, Industry minister Jim Prentice introduced Bill C-61 which contains amendments to Canada’s Copyright Act with the intention of updating the current law to take into account the widespread adoption and use of new digital media such as iPods and and other portable digital media devices.
Format shifting to be made legal
One of the major headline grabbing items in the bill is the explicit permission to allow transfer of content (at least some content) to multiple devices such as portable music and video players or computers. This amendment would legalize transferring the contents of a CD to your MP3 player or to your computer. There are some restrictions such as only one copy per device is allowed, that no DRM was disabled or circumvented in the process.
It is interesting to note that the clauses permitting format shifting include, music or “a work or other subject-matter that is a photograph or is contained in a book, newspaper, periodical or videocassette”. There is no mention of other formats such as DVDs nor other types of content such as online video or online photographs which if I understand correctly means that format shifting would remain illegal for these cases.
Legality of time shifting
Another reason for the “modernization” of Canada’s Copyright Act is to clarify the legality of time shifting which is the practice of recording a program in order to watch it at the user’s convenience. In the U.S., time shifting has explicitly been legal since 1984 when the U.S. Supreme Court decision on the Sony vs. Universal case was handed down. In Canada, there is currently no mention in the Copyright act regarding the legality of time shifting. Since users are effectively copying programs when using their VCR, computer or DVR, they are in violation of the Copyright Act.
If passed in its current form, Bill C-61 would explicitly allow time shifting which is great for consumers. There are however several caveats with this new allowance. It is not legal to keep recorded copies “longer than necessary in order to listen to or watch the program at a more convenient time”. It would be illegal then to keep recorded copies of your favourite shows. What the legal status of people’s existing collection of programs would be remains unclear. This also means that if you want to have a copy of a show long term, you would be forced to buy it on DVD or online even if you recorded every episode on your VCR or DVR. As I will discuss below, there are also DRM issues which could impact the use of time shifting.
Canada’s version of the DMCA
Although the amendments specifically allow consumers to copy legally obtained media onto various media devices for personal use, there are a lot of strings and conditions which have led many to label this Bill as Canada’s DMCA – a reference to the widely criticized United States’ DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act). In fact Michael Geist, a law professor a the University of Ottawa has pointed out that the Bill C-61 digital lock provisions are even more restrictive than the US DMCA.
DRM – making criminals out of consumers
One of the proposed amendments specially prohibit the circumvention and disabling of any digital locks or digital rights management (DRM). Since DRM is present on many CD, online downloads and almost all DVDs, it will effectively be illegal to make copies of these media onto portable players or for other purposes such as backups. Today, it is quite common for people to copy or “rip” DVDs in order to have a backup copy as well as to enble the transfer of the content onto portable video devices. Bill C-61 will now make this act illegal and designate a lot of people as criminals.
Making things even more confusing?
There still appears to be a fair bit of confusion over legalities of certain activities as well as the effect of Bill C-61 on people who currently have items which are currently legal but will no longer be legal if and when the Bill is adopted.
Will C-61 pass?
With the uproar regarding the introduction of this bill combined with the fact that federal conservatives are in a minority government means that this bill will probably not be passed without some modifications. Hopefully the government will listen to the outcry and change some of the more onerous DMCA like clauses.