Friday, June 20, 2008

Canada Warming Up Its Own DMCA

It used to be so easy. I'd just tell people that as a Canadian (and therefore not under the thumb of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act), I could merrily crack DVD encryption for personal use without breaking the law. Reactions would range from envy to applause, or sometimes a mixture of both.

But alas, it's looking like these good things may be coming to an end. On Thursday, the Canadian government finally released Bill C-61, legislation that would give us our very own DMCA, or at least something uncomfortably similar.

Bill C-61 is essentially a series of amendments to the Copyright Act that would ratify the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Copyright Treaty, which the DMCA did for the USA in 1996.

Some of Bill C-61's proposals are astonishingly reasonable. For instance, Canada has never, legally speaking, had fair use, but rather the stricter concept of fair dealing. However, Bill C-61 enshrines the right of an individual to make personal copies of copyrighted works to digital devices, so long as only one copy is made per device. Remember when the RIAA claimed that consumers weren't allowed to rip CDs they legally owned for use on their MP3 players, but for their magnaminous generosity? That tactic wouldn't wash up here. Furthermore, researchers would be allowed to crack encrypted media for research and academic purposes, thus avoiding things like the Dmitry Sklyarov fiasco.

But even some of these reasonable measures have unreasonable corollaries. Since contracts between consumers and rights holders explicitly supercede the Copyright Act, then Amazon's non-transferability clause trumps my right to give away any tracks I so desire. Bill C-61 spells out what's legal in giving away any other form of media (I have to really give it away, not keep a copy lying around), but my rights are abrogated when it comes to MP3s I buy if Amazon or eMusic says so. Also, that whole cracking encryption for research thing? It's allowed only if you have the permission of the rights holder. Yeah, let's see how often that happens.

What really burns me is that Bill C-61 will make it illegal for people to crack DVD encryption. Not that I'm a raise-the-Jolly-Roger pirate, but I crack DVDs all the time as a matter of convenience. When I recently travelled to Los Angeles, I brought six movies (and their extras) with me to pass the time. Breaking the CSS encryption saved me the trouble of carrying eight discs with me. And the bill's vague wording makes me wonder: would my multi-region DVD player constitute a "technology, device or component [that] is designed or produced primarily for the purposes of circumventing a technological measure"?

It's amazing. We had twelve years to observe the parts of the DMCA that didn't work or were too ambiguous—and then, with few excepctions, we went right ahead and copied them.

[Originally written for PC World.]

Labels: , , , ,