new copyright act now online – updated

Update: For anyone out there who: (a) pored over the previous incarnation of this bill (i.e. Bill C-61) back in 2008; (b) doesn’t happen to have redlining software; and (c) just wants to review what has changed between C-61 and C-32, here are redlines showing the changes from C-61 to C-32 (Word and PDF). Happy reading.

The much anticipated Copyright Modernization Act (or Bill C-32) was tabled yesterday and is now on-line and available for your reading pleasure. Given the broad interest in this act, it’s not surprising that there has already been a ton of press on it, including summaries and analyses galore.  I don’t propose to reinvent the wheel, so will simply point to you a post in Michael Geist’s blog where he provides a summary and various links to media coverage of the bill (which also have their own summaries) plus of course his own take on it.

My initial impression is that the bill strikes a relatively good balance between content creators and content users. Of course, given the highly politicized nature of copyright reform, and the sometimes fairly extreme views taken in various camps, it won’t make everyone happy. From the perspective of Geist et al. on the user side, the biggest criticism so far has been how digital locks (or “TPMs”) are dealt with. The short version is that TPMs are permitted even if they prevent users from exercising specific rights that are deemed by the Copyright Act not to constitute copyright infringement.

I have my own views on TPMs but will reserve that for another post.

Fair Use and the DMCA

An article in Wired News with the dramatic title of “Lawmakers Tout DMCA Killer” describes the most recent attempt to: (a) water down the protections afforded to content owners by the DMCA; (b) ensure the preservation of fair use rights on the part of users. As is usual, each side has its own rhetoric to describe what is happening, so in fairness I took the liberty of offering to readers of this blog the two alternative descriptions above. The nub:

The Boucher and Doolittle bill (.pdf), called the Fair Use Act of 2007, would free consumers to circumvent digital locks on media under six special circumstances.

Librarians would be allowed to bypass DRM technology to update or preserve their collections. Journalists, researchers and educators could do the same in pursuit of their work. Everyday consumers would get to “transmit work over a home or personal network” so long as movies, music and other personal media didn’t find their way on to the internet for distribution.

And then of course on the other side:

“The suggestion that fair use and technological innovation is endangered is ignoring reality,” said MPAA spokeswoman Gayle Osterberg. “This is addressing a problem that doesn’t exist.”

Osterberg pointed to a study the U.S. Copyright Office conducts every three years to determine whether fair use is being adversely affected. “The balance that Congress built into the DMCA is working.” The danger, Osterberg said, is in attempting to “enshrine exemptions” to copyright law.

To suggest that content owners have the right to be paid for their work is, for me, a  no-brainer. That being said, I wonder whether the DMCA and increasingly more complex and invasive DRM schemes will ultimately backfire – sure they protect the content, but they sure as heck are a pain in the ass – just my personal take on it. For example, I’d love to buy digital music, but having experienced the controls that iTunes imposes and suddenly having all my tracks disappear, I just don’t bother with it now. Not to mention the incredible hoops one needs to go through to display, say, Blu-ray on a computer – at least in its original, non-downgraded resolution – why bother with all of that at all?

I wonder whether this is, in a way, history repeating itself in a way. I am old enough to remember the early days of software protection – virtually every high-end game or application used fairly sophisticated techniques (like writing non-standard tracks on floppies in between standard tracks) in attempting to prevent piracy. Granted, these have never gone away altogether, particularly for super high end software that needs dongles and and the like, and of course recently there has been a resurgence in the levels of protection that have been layered on in Windows, but after the initial, almost universal lockdown of software long ago, there came a period where it seemed many (if not most) software developers just stopped using such measures.  At least that’s what seemed to happen. I’m not quite sure why, but I wonder if this same pattern will repeat with content rather than software. I suspect not. But hey, you never know.

In the meantime, off I go, reluctantly, in the cold, cold winter, to the nearest record shop to buy music the old fashioned way…