A proposed change to copyright law could change the way Canadians share media. It could also have a negative impact on the education system, said English professor Laura Murray.
Bill C-61, first read to the House of Commons by Federal Industry Minister Jim Prentice on June 12, outlines the provisions for copying media and fills in the grey areas not covered by existing copyright laws.
Under current copyrighting laws, Canadians aren’t allowed to copy newspapers, books, periodicals, photographs, videocassettes and music. Under Bill C-61, users would be allowed one copy of each item per individual media device such as an iPod and would also be permitted to record television and radio programs for later use.
An anti-circumvention clause in the bill would make it illegal to break digital locks on copyrighted material, nullifying the new allowances for most digital media.
Murray, also the author of the book Copyright: A Citizens Guide said, If passed, the bill could have a serious effect on Canadian universities.
“Decoding is being criminalized when there are a lot of legitimate purposes for it, especially regarding education,” she said.
But, Murray said the bill would make it illegal to get around digital locks, which are designed to prevent the reformatting and copying of contents found on DVDs, cell phones and other digital devices.
“The bill, if passed, would give the owner the ability to lock up material many different ways.”
Murray said Bill C-61 would also eliminate the university’s ability to take advantage of fair dealing, which allows students to download online journal articles and broadcast journalists the right to show clips from movies and newsreels without the permission of the copyright owner. The determination of what is considered “fair” is left to courts on a case by case basis.
“Everyone needs to understand fair dealing so that they know what they’re losing. This whole idea that users have rights is foreign to many people,” she said. “Fair dealing will be virtually impossible if the owners decide to block it out. To me, they’re giving up on the principle, ‘some things are free.’ That’s wrong, and we shouldn’t have to apologize for it.”
Under the current Copyright Act, the public is able to legally quote from digital sources for the purposes of private study, research criticism, review and news reporting.
“We [the University] certainly hope it doesn’t pass … the public should be as familiar with the concept of fair dealing as they are familiar with the term copyright,” Murray said. “At a university we need fair dealing in order to do research, it will mean less audio visual material will be used in the classroom and will provide barriers to students who want to use digital materials in the classroom.”
Film studies professor Blaine Allan said he’s been educating himself about the effect Bill C-61 could have on the film department.
“We regularly, for the sake of convenience, make copies of digital materials to show clips from movies and other film mediums,” he said.
Allan said if Bill C-61 is passed, he might have to bend the law in order to continue to teach his courses effectively and efficiently.
“What we may have to do strictly, legally speaking is use the actual item which would be technically cumbersome and distracting,” he said. “If we were adhering to the letter of the law we would not have the ability to use the materials that we would normally.”
Should the bill pass, Allan said his teaching would be severely restricted.
“It is preventing us from doing what we do in a way that we see as being productive and beneficial enacting an unfair constraint,” he said. “We have a lot of great tools in our hands, it would be a same for us to not be able to use them.”
The Film Studies Association of Canada (FSAC) has issued its own statement regarding the new proposed copyright reform legislation. In it, FSAC expresses its concerns about Bill C-61 limiting their rights as scholars and educators. In the document, the FSAC calls out for “a truly balanced copyright act, which would protect the rights of creator and copyright holders and the legitimate rights of users of copyright material.”
Outside the classroom, Bill C-61 could have serious implications for those who upload or download files from peer-to-peer networks.
People caught downloading material such as mp3s or videos will be subjected to fines of $500 per incident. But, if a defendant testifies they were unaware they infringed on copyright the fine could be reduced to $200.
Current Canadian copyright law allows for the legal downloading of sound recordings while the downloading of movies is deemed copyright infringement and is criminalized.
Uploading a file onto a network like YouTube could result in a lawsuit of $20,000 per file.
In her first year at Queen’s, Ayan Ga’al, ArtSci ’11, discovered DC++, a free peer-to-peer file sharing network popular among students living in residence.
“Everyday I downloaded something whether it be a movie or a song. It’s good because it makes downloading easy,” she said. “DC is an amazing tool because it allows you to download movies, music and lecture notes all in one place.”
Ga’al said she was shocked to hear her money-saving activity could potentially have legal implications but said she won’t change her downloading habits anytime soon.
“I’d probably take my chances … although I would probably try to incorporate iTunes into my everyday life,” he said.
Ga’al said downloading music and movies is so ingrained into the fabric of Canadian society, it would be difficult for people to stop the practice altogether, despite the government’s efforts to impose a financial deterrent.
“It’s so much a part of what we do,” she said. “It’s not about, ‘did you get this new CD?’ It’s ‘did you download this new song?’ Everybody downloads.”
• The legal copying of unprotected music from sites such as iTunes would continue to be legal as long as only one copy is made.
•Any illegal downloading of unprotected music would be subject to a $500 fine. If you can convince a judge you did so unknowingly, the fine is decreased to $200.
• Copying any CD with a digital lock would become illegal. This means if you transfer a song from a legally purchased CD with a digital lock to your iPod, you could be subject to a $20,000 fine.
• Breaking the digital locks found on almost every DVD out on the market would mean a fine of $20,000.
• It would be illegal to make, sell, rent or import software programs that burn protected DVDs.
• You would still be legally allowed to record a movie or TV show, but you could only make one copy per broadcast.
• If broadcasters decide to put digital locks up to block your PVR, then you would be subject to a $20,000 fine for breaking into it.
• It would be illegal to unlock your cell phone to avoid roaming charges or change cell phone providers. This would be subject to a $20, 000 fine.
•All digitally transmitted interlibrary loan material would have to be destroyed within five days.
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