Canada considers copyright laws

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

New copyright laws severely limiting the use of digital media could be hitting the Canadian Parliament table as early as Jan. 28.

From reproducing academic materials, to ripping music to your computer, to taping your favourite television shows, critics speculate a crackdown on a wide range of day-to-day student activities.

The legislation, put forth by the federal government, has been opposed by many members of the academic community, including the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS).

“Over the past 20 years, amendments to copyright law have tightened restrictions, making it harder for end-users and more profitable for large corporations,” Ben Lewis, national treasurer for CFS, said.

CFS is concerned because the government has offered no public consultation on the issue, but has consistently met with American representatives behind closed doors. This suggests American-style regulations will be brought forward in Parliament over the next couple of weeks.

Western law professor Samuel Trosow compared the legislation to the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) enacted in the United States.

“Importing DMCA-type prohibitions in Canada will hurt some of our most innovative industries, it will hurt Canadian consumers, and it will create a litigious environment that is not in Canadian interests,” Trosow said.

Although the legislation was supposed to be tabled back in December, the motion was delayed. Trosow and Lewis suspect the motion was abandoned because of public outcry against a “Canadian DMCA.”

Part of that outcry was a Facebook group entitled “Fair Copyright for Canada,” started by University of Ottawa professor Michael Geist. The group has grown to almost 40,000 members since its inception.

Geist said revisions to copyright law in Canada should accommodate technological advancements, instead of adding further restrictions.

“It’s a shift backwards,” he said. “[The DMCA] is more than 10 years old ... The Internet has such tremendous potential and yet [we are] severely limiting its use.”

Geist calls for more “fair dealing” in copyright legislation.

Fair dealing allows users to reproduce media, provided it is for personal use. These provisions make it possible for consumers to burn CDs, share software and backup movie collections " rights that could be jeopardized by the proposed legislation.

In the classroom, Lewis said new laws could have a number of adverse affects. “Whether it’s the cost of textbooks and course packs, videos shown in lectures, or photocopying passages of text ... students will bear the cost.”

Trosow encouraged students to research and take action.

“The important thing is to become educated about the issue and to understand its implications.

“Join the Facebook groups, read some relevant blogs, and let your MPs know what you think.”

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