If copyright bill C-32 is enacted with digital lock provisions, I, and others like me, will simply choose to break the law.

Bill C-32, the Copyright Modernization Act, was introduced by the Conservative government in parliament on June 2nd. C-32 is the Tory's third attempt at copyright reform after both C-60 and C-61 failed to reach a vote before dissolution.

With the exception of one deal-breaking provision, C-32 is a reasonable update to Canada's copyright law, which was last changed when "internet" meant a basketball swish shot. The bill makes a number of progressive changes:

  • fair dealing is extended to parody, satire, time-shifting (e.g., PVRs), format-shifting (e.g., ripping CDs to MP3 players), and classroom and distance teaching.
  • Internet providers and search engines will not be required to police copyright infringement, nor acquiesce to "takedown" notices.
  • Some content, particularly YouTube video, may be remixed for non-commercial uses.
  • Teachers may use copyrighted materials in their lessons, albeit with restrictions.
  • Statutory damages for infringement are reduced.


The bill prohibits any copying if the source material is protected by a digital lock, even if such copying is allowed by the fair dealing exceptions.

"So?" you say, "Why would that bother me?" Well, if the digital lock provisions of C-32 are passed into law:

  • you cannot watch copy-protected DVDs that you purchased on a Linux computer, or using the free VLC Media Player;
  • you cannot watch copy-protected DVDs that you purchased outside of North America;
  • you cannot make personal backups of copy-protected DVDs, CDs, or software that you purchased;
  • you cannot rip copy-protected music files that you purchased onto your computer, MP3 player, or a blank CD;
  • you cannot modify a copy-protected DVD that you purchased to alter the display because of your visual impairment;
  • you cannot move a copy-protected eBook that you purchased from one publisher's device onto another;
  • you cannot record your favourite copy-protected television show on your PVR to watch later;
  • you cannot alter a copy-protected DVD or CD to edit out sections that are inappropriate for young people; and,
  • even if a protected work's copyright period ends (usually 50 years after the death of the creator), you cannot make copies of it because ownership and use of digital lock circumvention tools is proscribed.

This is an incomplete list of all of the things you should be able to do but can't because of C-32's digital lock provisions. Just how ridiculous is it to deny a person's right to control his or her own possessions, when doing so affects no one else and doesn't rob anyone of their due income?

Take, for instance, a law prohibiting the opening of locked toasters. You might argue that the contents of toasters are far too valuable to trust citizens to not abuse. They might copy the plans, or refashion the parts into a spring-loaded slingshot that could put somebody’s eye out. All kinds of mischief! Therefore, opening toasters must be made illegal. Never mind that you paid for it and the thing is sitting in your kitchen, belching smoke. It’s special.

Magic seals are made to be broken by Ivor Tossell

If the restrictions named above seem far fetched or hypothetical, consider the all-too-real consequences of the American Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which instituted similar digital lock protection rules:

  • In November 2006, movie studios used the DMCA against Load-'N-Go, a small company that loaded DVDs purchased by a customer onto the customer's iPod. Load-'N-Go would take DVDs purchased by the customer, load them onto her iPod, and then return both the iPod and the original DVDs.
  • In 2009, Texas Instruments (TI) threatened three bloggers with legal action after they posted commentary about a hobbyist's success in reverse engineering the TI-83 Plus graphing calculator.
  • In April 2005, the creator of Adobe's Photoshop software revealed that camera-maker Nikon had begun encrypting certain portions of the RAW image files generated by its professional-grade digital cameras. As a result, these files would not be compatible with Photoshop or other similar software unless the developers first took licenses from Nikon.
  • In July 2001, Russian programmer Dmitry Sklyarov was jailed for several weeks and detained for five months in the United States after speaking at the DEFCON conference in Las Vegas.... Sklyarov was never accused of infringing any copyright, nor of assisting anyone else to infringe copyrights. His alleged crime was working on a software tool with many legitimate uses, simply because other people might use the tool to copy an e-book without the publisher's permission.
  • In January 2003, Lexmark employed the DMCA as a new weapon in its arsenal. Lexmark had added authentication routines between its printers and cartridges explicitly to hinder aftermarket toner vendors. Static Control Components (SCC) reverse-engineered these measures and sold "Smartek" chips that enabled refilled cartridges to work in Lexmark printers. Lexmark then used the DMCA to obtain an injunction banning SCC from selling its chips to cartridge remanufacturers.

It will surprise none of you to hear that the media industry is forceful supporters of C-32's digital lock protections, having already gone so far as concocting a phony campaign in support of the bill. It may surprise you that the truly-Canadian recording and film associations are not in favour of the bill, but for different reasons, including expansion of a toll on blank CDs that you have been paying for years.

Fortunately, awareness of the digital lock absurdity is growing:

So what can I do?

If you've made it this far, you're probably disturbed by this digital lock protection business. Your next step is to learn more about Bill C-32 and its objectionable section by following the blog of Dr. Michael Geist, Canada's chief independent follower of the intellectual property scene. Geist has written a comprehensive summary of the consequences of the digital lock anti-circumvention rules (PDF).

Then, keep up to date by subscribing to Speak Out On Copyright. If you haven't given up on Facebook yet, join the Fair Copyright for Canada group. You may also want to support Online Rights Canada by donating to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

After that, it's time to get out the ol' pen and paper. While you can use the online service of the Canadian Coalition for Electronic Rights site to send e-mail and a printed letter to all of the involved members of parliament, you'll make more of an impact with a personal letter written by hand.

Writing the PM and his ministers probably won't convince them that they were wrong about the bill all along, but might at least make them feel bad (I believe that even human-like-object Stephen Harper has a heart). You'll at least get a more personal response by writing Yukon's MP, Larry Bagnell. I've already traded a couple of e-mail messages with him (bagnell5@parl.gc.ca), and you can write him for free at this address:

The Honourable Larry Bagnell
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON
K1A 0A6

You can find the address for your own member of parliament here, although all you really have to do is change the name on the first line, above.

What if that fails?

Sadly, the media and business lobbies -- chummy pals of the Conservatives and Liberals both -- are lined up solidly behind the unaltered language of Bill C-32, so there is a real danger that it will pass as written.

If it does, I know that I will consciously break the law and continue to use my copyrighted possessions in ways that I consider to be non-infringing. You hear that, M Division? I also know that I won't be alone, and that unenforceable laws drawing widespread popular dissent won't attract much interest from the police.

However, just as for the unintended consequences of the Yanks' DMCA, the law will punish innovative companies with small legal budgets, ultimately reducing our options and increasing the prices we're charged. We must not let that happen. You know what to do.

Update, June 18th

Apparently the C-32 committee won't convene until this fall, so there's lots of time to send lots of letters. Get Crackin'.