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A stop sign is seen near Peace Tower on Parliament Hill in Ottawa (BLAIR GABLE/Blair Gable/Reuter)
A stop sign is seen near Peace Tower on Parliament Hill in Ottawa (BLAIR GABLE/Blair Gable/Reuter)

Last chance for copyright extremists to warp Bill C-11 Add to ...

This is not unusual. To its credit, one of the world’s largest telecom and Internet gear manufacturers, Ericsson, makes the same case in perhaps even more expansive language. Indeed, while supporters claim that the “graduated response” and digital intermediary strategy have only a minimal impact on individual liberties (see here and here), a recent UN Internet & Human Rights report minced no words when it argued exactly the opposite point of view: “. . . [C]tting off users from Internet access, regardless of the justification provided, including on the grounds of violating intellectual property rights law, [is]disproportionate and thus a violation of article 19, paragraph 3, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights."

As for the attempted claw back on user-generated content, once again we see the copyright maximalists as not just being out of step with others but so wedded to a restricted view of the world that they think that copyright law is all about them. Yet, as James Boyle observes in The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind (pp. 66-70), copyright sets out rights for creators and owners, on the one side, and users, readers and audiences to do as they please with media acquired legitimately, on the other.

From the blinkered position of the maximalists, it’s easy to understand the drive to extend copyright terms from life of the author plus fifty years to seventy, but why not in perpetuity? That they have not pursued this is mere capitulation to political reality versus any kind of principled stance.

Reading any of the above “copyright maximalists” interventions one would be hard pressed to know that copyright law is about two sets of interests: copyright holders and media users. To them Bill C-11’s carve out for non-commercial user-generated content is completely unacceptable, akin to a tax, a subsidy, a sop thrown to the masses. It is not, it is simply recognizing that people have rights too.

This is the tragedy of the digital locks provisions of C-11. Indeed, whilst the bill acknowledges a new right with the user created content provision, the restrictions on tampering with digital locks effectively nullifies those rights. In other words, what the bill gives with one hand, it taketh away with the other.

Again, the Business Coalition for Balanced Copyright is much more onside in this matter than the content and entertainment industries. Indeed, they are emphatic that the greater articulation of user rights in the Bill is an advance, and that this is especially so with respect to the user created content right, but state equally emphatically that “the digital locks provisions render them illusory.”

Ericsson stakes out a similar position, setting out three general principles that ought to govern whatever digital locks mechanisms that are used and backed by the force of law:

  1. They should be “built on an interoperable set of proprietary standards or consist of DRM technologies that are based on open industry-wide standards.
  2. “Must not limit individuals’ statutory right to make legal private copies of Music, Books and AV works.
  3. “[C]ntract law and technical standards should not be allowed to override statutory exceptions such a fair use regime or private copy exemptions, thereby limiting the availability of lawfully acquired content to format or device shift within the scope of the private sphere.”

My point in all this is not to make a fetish out of those who make, own and run the pipes that make up the Internet. Instead, it is to demonstrate that those who are trying to stuff Bill C-11 with SOPA-stlye restrictions are radical extremists, and well in the minority.

Dwayne Winseck is a communications professor at the School of Journalism and Communication, Carleton University in Ottawa. Prof. Winseck been researching and writing about media, telecoms and the Internet in one way or another for nearly 20 years. You can read more comment on his blog, Mediamorphis .

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