Judging by the ongoing popularity of P2P networks, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's "anti-circumvention" provision has been less than a raging success. A lot less. While doing little to impede piracy or the bootlegging of copyrighted works, it did manage to make criminals of entire generations of Americans: anyone who has ever ripped a DVD movie to a laptop in order to watch it on a flight has broken the law, even though such a use clearly seems "fair." Now, that same anti-circumvention goodness could be coming to Canada in the form of new copyright legislation that might be introduced as early as this spring.
Canadian law professor Michael Geist points out that the bill is similar to a failed version introduced by the Liberals last year, but it adds a tough anti-circumvention section and carves out additional exceptions for educators. The way Geist sees it, this is bad news for the consumers and for the Conservatives, should they actually introduce the legislation, as it will have plenty of stakeholders lined up in opposition.
Copyright reform, should it come, might be better served addressing fair use (or "fair dealing" as it is called in Canada). While Canadian commentators love to complain about followingin the footsteps of theAmericanhegemony when it comes to things like the DMCA, the same commentators generally like the American example when it comes to fair use.
That's because Canada's current fair dealing copyright exception is quite limited: it's restricted to "research or private study." Additional exceptions exist for news reporting, educational institutions, and museums and libraries, but consumers and content creators alike have few ways to use or comment on content without a license from the copyright holder.
The US currently recognizes a broader set of fair use criteria that are summed up in section 107 of copyright law. That allows for "criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research." "Criticism" and "comment" are the two biggest exceptions to copyright law, as they allow anyone with a PC and some creativity to use copyrighted video clips for parody or public criticism. Although the whole fair use system can be maddeningly vague at times (it is never defined, except by four questions of Delphic obscurity), it has plenty of flexibility and few predefined constraints.
If Canada's copyright overhaul does stress anti-circumvention but not fair dealing, it will be a victory for groups like the Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA) but an obvious loss for consumer freedom. Start ripping those DVDs now.