Copyright law: Give a little here, take a little there

Copyright a little fuzzy?

What’s the talk of the town among copyright lawyers in Toronto’s downtown bars these days? Of course, it’s Bill C-32, the Canadian government’s latest proposed amendments to the Copyright Act. Legal scholars, governments, users and creators have all been grappling with the impact of technological developments on copyright law, particularly since the advent of the Internet. And so it’s been with the Canadian government’s conundrum in trying to accommodate everyone’s interest.

The law is about balancing interests and so it is with copyright. The goal is to strike a balance between users and creators and their (equally legitimate) interests. So how are they doing?

First, let’s give a little to users (take a little from creators)… where you say? For user-generated content of course! The bill proposes to liberate all those midnight junkies, sipping their espresso and posting their favourite YouTube clip on their Facebook page with their most-insightful commentary accompanying the clip. But why should they be able to reuse copyright content? Because it’s use for a “non-commercial” purpose of a work that is publicly available (note there are conditions). 1 to users.

Second, let’s give a little to creators (some argue perhaps a little more than little)… how you say? Through the much-debated “anti-circumvention” measure; this refers to expanding copyright law to protect against the circumventing of a “technological protection measure” or (in English please) a “digital lock”. This is mirroring the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act such that copyright would protect creators not only against the actual copying of their content but also against the breaking or working around of any digital lock placed by those creators on their copyrighted work. Where does that leave users? Under the proposed amendment, a user would be breaking the law even if he breaks the lock for his or her own non-commercial, private use (note there are other exceptions available such as for security, privacy concerns etc.). That means I wouldn’t be able to copy my next Led Zep CD purchase (they are bound to put out a new compilation soon, no?) to my iPod if they move to add a digital lock to the CD. 1 to creators.

Remember: this is not the law yet. There will be debate (on and off Parliament Hill) in the days to come. And there is more give and take in the proposed Bill (including new exceptions to copyright infringement such as for parody or educational purposes) but this gives you a taste. And yes I’m avoiding taking sides on the digital lock issue, but open to your comments – especially any digital media start-ups out there!

By the way, I’m glad to be blogging for MaRS and thanks to Keri for her suggestion of a most topical issue!