Canadian DMCA: The Rough Guide

A good friend of mine, who is also an accomplished musician, asked me to post on why the Canadian version of the DMCA is so potentially disastrous for the people of our fine nation. I'm by no means an expert, but I will do my humble best. Calling the proposed copyright legislation the 'Canadian DMCA' is somewhat misleading. DMCA refers to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, passed in 1998 by the United States. It was intended to bring the US of A into compliance with several treaties signed under the auspices of the World Intellectual Property Organization. It is almost universally deplored by digital creators, web activists, and all sorts of other folks concerned with the freedom of information.

The Canadian legislation, set to be brought forward by Industry Canada Minister Jim Prentice, serves the same purpose as the DMCA. And if Cory Doctorow and Michael Geist are to be believed, our law may be a lot worse. What makes it so bad? A lot of reasons, but for simplicity's sake, here's the three biggies:

1. It's not a 'made in Canada' solution. In its adherence to the the template created by the American DMCA, our legislation doesn't fit our national circumstances. Worse, it imports all of the crappy aspects of the USA's law. As Michael Geist notes, we don't need to go this route to satisfy our treaty obligations under WIPO:

 "The government has emphasized the need to implement the WIPO Internet Treaties, however, those treaties provide far greater flexibility than what is found in the U.S. DMCA. It can meet the WIPO standard and preserve the copyright balance, but it must reject the U.S. path to do so."

2. You didn't have any input. The new copyright law was created with input from American corporations and commercial interests. Not from the user community. So, educators, librarians, musicians, bloggers and a whole host of other groovy folks didn't get a say in the new law. But US lobbyists sure did. Boy howdy. You'd better believe their interests will be well represented in the new law. Yours will be strangely absent.

3. Anti-circumvention = bad news. In Canada right now, we enjoy all kinds of rights to copy or reproduce copyrighted works for parody, research, personal study, criticism, etc. etc. The new law is almost certain to close these loop-holes, effectively ending any conception of 'fair use' in Canada. So that means you won't be able to share copyrighted materials with your friends, make copies for personal use (even for back-up!), or take existing material and incorporate it into your own work. You also won't be able to break the 'locks' off of digital content, in order to time-shift or move it between devices. And if the company you bought the media from goes out of business, then you won't be able to use your content at all if their key no longer works. Upshot: If you're, say, a musician who digs sampling, then you're screwed. Basically, all of the creative opportunities offered by the Internet will dry up literally over night. As our man Geist says:

"The bill is likely to include provisions (the anti-circumvention provisions) that have been proven to create significant harm to education, privacy protection, security research, free speech, and consumer interests."

So, yeah. The Canadian DMCA is a bad thing. If you're concerned about freedom of information, now is the time to stand up and make your voice heard. Check out Michael Geist's blog for more info on what you can do. Also, check out the Facebook page for great conversation and insight.