New Copyright Bill Introduced

A new  copyright law introduced in the House of Commons Wednesday proposes sweeping chnages to the law which was last updated in 1997. If it’s passed, it will be easier for recording companies and film studios to go after those who share files illegally.

The new law would require Internet service providers to notify their users if they receive a notice that a copyright has been infringed upon. The ISPs would then be required to hold on to the personal information of the infringing member, to turn it over if a court orders them to do so. Under the current law, ISPs only notify copyright infringers on a voluntary basis.

Among other changes, the law legitimizes activities that most Canadians already do, such as transferring music from a legally purchased CD to an MP3 player, or recording a television show, which goes against current copyright rules, universally seen as outdated and last updated in 1997.

The legislation, however, makes it illegal to circumvent digital locks, even for personal or educational purposes.

This means that someone who backs up a DVD movie has likely committed an infringement, since most DVDs already contain digital locks. The law will also make it illegal to circumvent regional locks. This means altering a DVD bought in Europe, or one of five other regions, to enable it to be played on a North American DVD would also constitute a copyright infringement — a practice that is currently legal.

There is an exemption to the digital lock rule — someone who purchases a cellular phone may unlock it in order to switch service providers (from Rogers to Bell, for example) — assuming the user’s contract with the cellular phone company has ended.

The new bill also relaxes many of the copyright rules for educational purposes, as part of what’s called a fair dealing clause. For example, it will allow teachers to use copyrighted materials as part of a lesson.

Penalties for consumers sharing files will also be eased. The new law will distinguish between those who share files for commercial purposes, versus those who do it for personal purposes. Fines for personal file sharing are reduced, under the proposed law, while commercial copyright infringement fines remain the same.

This is the second time the Conservative government is introducing changes to the copyright law. Bill C-61, introduced in 2008, died on the order paper when the government called an election.

The Conservative government said the new law strikes a balanced approach between consumers and copyright holders, but Michael Geist, a copyright expert at the University of Ottawa called it “regressive.”

“Especially around the issue of digital locks,” Geist said. “This was the number one criticism of the bill two years ago.”

Geist said under the proposed law, people would be able share books for educational purposes, but would not digital books, if they are protected by a digital lock.