12/12/2011 04:40 EST | Updated 02/11/2012 05:12 EST

Stop Making Our Copyright and Digital Laws Worse


Canada's copyright and digital policies aren't working. That's what I'm hearing from artists, independent Internet service providers, and consumers.

Our laws are out of date; they were written before file sharing or Facebook, before iPods or BitTorrent. If they ever worked, they don't anymore. They don't support the information commons or encourage creativity in the arts. They don't help people.

After five years of failed attempts at copyright reform, the Harper Conservatives have drafted legislation (Bill C-11) that, given their majority, will likely make it through Parliament. Bill C-11 prioritizes information restriction over consumer rights through the use of "digital locks," the electronic codes that prevent a product from being copied or modified. While every creator has the right to put digital locks on their own content to prevent piracy, digital locks should not be used to prevent legitimate consumers from accessing content for which they have already paid.

Most nations with modern copyright laws do not criminalize bypassing digital locks for non-commercial use. They allow people to burn a CD from music purchased on an iPod. They let you copy a new DVD to your laptop. They don't prevent someone who is visually impaired from using software to read ebooks aloud. They don't stop teachers from referencing other media to illustrate a lesson. Under Bill C-11, all of these acts are crimes.

Harper's legislation is far more restrictive than it needs to be, more than the controversial copyright laws being fought in the courts in the U.S., and more than international treaties regarding intellectual property require. Honest, hard-working educators, archivists, documentary filmmakers and consumers will be criminalized. Even the transfer of legitimately purchased music to different devices may be illegal.

This is all in the pursuit of fighting piracy on behalf of multinational corporate interests, despite research that shows that removing digital locks can actually decrease piracy.

Of particular concern to those in remote communities are the "book-burning" provisions regarding education texts. Students studying through distance education will be forced to destroy their notes after a semester ends. They won't be able to save them for an honours project or refer to them for other courses in the future. That information is gone, forever. These students won't have the same rights as those who are fortunate enough to be able attend classes in person.

If we want to promote the arts and protect digital innovation, we have a lot of work to do. And it starts with listening to the users, the consumers, Canadians.

We need to legislate clear rules on net neutrality to give consumers equal access to online content. We need to prevent internet providers from persisting in anti-competitive behaviour. We need a made-in-Canada copyright law that protects Canadian artists and the Canadian public, not a bill driven by foreign interests. We need to develop our copyright law in consultation with people, instead of introducing new restrictions with false urgency.

We need to support artists by helping them maintain their rights, while ensuring they can be remunerated for their work. We need to support educators and the public by ensuring they have a right to access those works.

We need to make sure every household that wants access to broadband has access to it. We need to build digital policies around innovation and knowledge sharing instead of restriction and exclusivity.

Our copyright and digital policies have been out of date for quite some time and right now it looks like they're going to get worse before we get a chance to make them better.

We aren't where we need to be on copyright, but we know how to get there. We need to listen to Canadians.