Proposed U.S copyright law hurts users

Alleged U.S campaign portrays Canada as a pirate haven

A Canadian university professor believes there is a campaign in the U.S. to make Canada out to be a haven for content piracy in order to push stricter copyright law, when in fact Canada's copyright legislation is compliant with its international obligations.

"The fact is there is zero evidence that Canada is a pirate haven," said Rory McGreal, professor and associate vice-president of research at Athabasca University.

"We know for a fact there is more piracy going on, copying movies, videos, music, in the United States than there is in Canada even on a per capita basis," said McGreal.

Yet, he added, the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act is enacted in that country.

McGreal was speaking at the Free Software and Open Source Symposium 2009 (FSOSS) on Friday about the state of Canadian copyright legislation.

Currently, Canadian copyright law is "reasonably open" but many aspects of it are unclear, said McGreal.

"The government wants to bring in laws to make it more clear but are basing it on the U.S. model, a very strict and regimented view of copyright and they're moving the balance," he said.

That balance will be shifted, if the government has its way, in favour of the content vendor and at the expense of traditional user rights that have been in place for many years, he said.

Not only will consumer rights be impacted, but those of academia and disabled persons too, said McGreal.

Yet, copyright was originally introduced to encourage learning, noted McGreal, but "it has since morphed over the centuries into a right just for the authors."

In an interview with ComputerWorld Canada, McGreal said he expected a new iteration of Bill C-61, the Act to Amend the Copyright Act, to already be on the table.

But he said the government is in the process of preparing a new iteration of the Bill but the difference this time, is the government held a broad public consultation following criticism that previous copyright bills had not entertained public feedback.

"The copyright consultation got 8,000 so it was a real shock to the government how many people were interested," said McGreal.

Actually, bringing in stricter copyright laws could "backfire" on content vendors because it will benefit the open source and open material, said McGreal. If laws are too prohibitive, then academia will be forced to turn to open education software and resources even more than it already does, he said.

Richard Weait, FSOSS attendee and free software advocate who attended the session, agreed with McGreal that making it illegal to break digital locks on content would limit the ability of disabled persons to access content on their devices.

"I think that's a basic human rights issue," said Weait. "It's clearly in the wrong."

But McGreal said he isn't looking for the balance of rights to be shifted entirely toward the user either.

"I don't think anyone is against the authors having their copyright, but there is a balance that must be maintained, and users have rights," said McGreal.

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Kathleen Lau

ComputerWorld Canada
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