Cracking of digital encryption illegal under new Canadian Copyright Act

In Tuesday’s Globe and Mail, there was a brief item on proposed changes to Canada’s Copyright Act that would be introduced by Industry Minister Tony Clement on Wednesday June 3rd. This is the second time this legislation has been introduced; the first attempt in 2008 met with strong opposition and died a merciful death when an election was called. The controversial changes proposed in these amendments would tell Canadians what they can and cannot do with digital copies of music, books, movies and episodes of television shows.

I first posted on this issue and at that time, I noted that the Harper government was being pressured to change Canada’s copyright laws by the United States, most particularly as a result of the Special 301 Report released in April 2009 by the United States Trade Representative. The Special 301 Report lists countries that the U.S. believes need to reform their intellectual property laws. Canada has been included on that list for the past 15 years, in fact, Canada was added to the Priority Watch List in 2009 (along with China, Russia and India among others). The recording industry in the United States has been lobbying government and threatening consumers with legal action for years in attempts to end the practice of uploading and downloading digital copies of recorded media; now they are trying to export their efforts into Canada.

Minister Clement’s amendments propose changes that would make it explicitly illegal to crack the digital encryption protection on recorded material. For those of you that aren’t aware, digital encryption is used to prevent consumers from copying DVDs (even though software is freely available on the internet that will allow consumers to break the encryption and allow copying). To make these changes more palatable, Mr. Clement will change the rules so that consumers can legally copy music that they have purchased, for example, if you purchase a CD, you can copy the music to your iPod, in other words, the amendments will allow "format shifting". Imagine that, Mr. Clement is going to allow me to copy music that I have paid for (generally way too much for considering the quality of the content) to a device that I have paid for. He’s too kind. I hate to tell him but consumers, himself included as he revealed last week, have ignored the stupid law that prevented us from doing that since the advent of the first Walkman.

What the proposed amendments may also do is to prevent consumers from decrypting and copying DVDs that they have purchased in other regions (outside of North America’s Region 1) so that the content can be played on North American players.

Ottawa will also allow Canadians to continue to legitimately record television shows with digital video recorders for later viewing as long as they don’t build up a library of recorded content. A question. How are they going to know if a consumer has built up a so-called "library" of recorded television episodes? Are they going to search our homes? Are they going to create some sort of device that tracks our recording habits?

I’d suggest that Mr. Clement take a step back from his political masters south of the border and rethink these amendments. It is my opinion that as long as I’m not diffusing the content that I have paid for through a web-based diffusion service or attempting to make a profit by copying the media, I should be free to use the content as I choose within the four walls of my home. As well, since the media used by the recording are fragile and highly susceptible to damage, I should be allowed to make a backup copy of a disk as long as I am not intending to retail that copy.

I don’t think that it’s any business of the United States Trade Representative what I do with my CDs, DVDs and other media that I have purchased and I suspect most Canadians will agree.

Click HERE to read more of Glen Allen’s columns.

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