Monday, December 6, 2010

An open letter on Bill C-32

I believe strongly that we need balance in copyright. For the most part, I believe that Bill C-32 provides much of the balance that is needed. There is one portion of it, however, that renders all other aspects of the copyright act moot. That portion is the digital lock provisions.

These provisions are nasty. They not only allow someone issuing a copyrighted work to steal from the public all of their fair dealing rights, they also allow the theft of copyrighted works themselves. I feel so strongly about this that any party that supports Bill C-32 with the digital lock provisions in place will lose my vote not just in the next election, but for the rest of my life. These aspects of Bill C-32 are that evil.

It will no doubt come as a surprise to many that the digital lock provisions of Bill C-32 allow theft of copyright material from the copyright holders, with no recourse for them to determine that infringing is occurring. Let me explain how that comes about.

Much material that is copyrighted is user-visible. That means that once it is rendered in a form the end-user can understand, the intellectual property will be obvious. Decode a song and it will be recognizable if it is stolen from another artist. Decode a book so it can be read and anyone will recognize it if it is the work of another author. The same is true of movies.

It is not true, however, for software. The user interface of a program is often the least interesting portion of it, and the easiest to replace. The underlying code can be stolen from the copyright holder with impunity by anyone who places a trivial encryption on it, and Bill C-32 would make it illegal for the legitimate copyright holder to decrypt the runtime to prove that infringement was taking place.

This is not a theoretical issue. Router manufacturers have been forced in recent years to comply with licenses for copyrighted operating systems they have used, and the only way it was proven that they were using the operating systems in question was to show that the machine code they were operating was the same as the machine code generated from the copyrighted OS. Had the code been encrypted, and had the encryption been illegal to bypass, the theft of the OS would have been impossible to prove.

To see some of the other evil outcomes of the digital lock provisions of Bill C-32, we only have to look at some of the more outrageous activities south of the border where the DMCA holds:

- It would be illegal for blind users to try to read eBooks they have already paid for by using screen readers. A programmer in Russia developed just such an application and was arrested on a visit to the U.S. and spent several weeks in jail. Charges were eventually dropped through a deal where he turned against his employer.

- It would be illegal for parents to control restriction of the material watched by their children. A Harvard professor who attempted to analyze the list of sites being blocked by one parental control program to figure out whether it was doing an adequate job was threatened with prosecution under the DMCA digital lock provisions.

- It would be illegal to unlock cell phones so that they could be used with a different carrier once the contract was up. Although in the U.S. they have recently introduced a special exception to the DMCA that in theory is supposed to allow this behaviour, the digital lock provisions of the DMCA make the exception null and void. The same is true of Bill C-32.

Let me give a demonstration of just how pernicious the digital lock provisions are in Bill C-32. Consider this sentence:

  IgitalDay ocklay rovisionspay ustmay otnay rumptay allway otherway aspectsway ofway opyrightcay awlay.

Under the copyright law as described by Bill C-32, if you are reading that sentence online or in some other digital form and you decoded it without using my official pig latin decoder program (just $29.95), then I get to sue you for copyright violation.

Now that is one bad law.


Anonymous said...

I think you may want to add a facebook icon to your website. I just bookmarked this url, although I had to do this manually. Simply my 2 cents.

Bruce Atherton said...

Thanks for your feedback. I've done just as you've suggested. If you have any issues using any of the social sharing buttons, please let me know.