Say Hello to the Copyright Modernization Act

New copyright legislation is always a big deal.  Not only does it stand to impact most of our daily lives, whether we’re loading music to listen to on the bus or trying to read a new ebook, but it is also an industry game-changer. For book publishing, a “copyright industry” that’s also trying to bridge the gap between print and digital, the current Copyright Act (unchanged since 1997) is sometimes like the little brother on crutches who can’t keep up when all we want to do is run towards the ice-cream truck (play along with me and imagine that the ice-cream truck is the exciting world of digital distribution).

The latest attempt to amend the Copyright Act officially began yesterday, when federal Industry Minister Tony Clement publicly announced the tabling of the Copyright Modernization Act (or Bill C-32). So what does Bill C-32 look like, and what does it mean for the Canadian publishing industry?

Notable amendments put forward in Bill C-32:

  • expansion of the definition of fair dealing to state that “Fair dealing for the purpose of research, private study, education, parody or satire does not infringe copyright”
  • prohibition of the circumvention of technical protection measures (TPM, which includes digital rights management or DRM), even if it’s just for personal use without financial gain
  • “time-shifting” for personal use (recording a TV show for later) does not infringe copyright
  • what Michael Geist calls a “YouTube exception” for the right to create remixed user generated content for non-commercial purposes
  • allowances for creating “back-up copies” of copyrighted files for personal use as long as TPM/DRM isn’t circumvented in the process

Bill C-32 shows an attempt to reform Canada’s Copyright Act by keeping two important designations in mind: that copyright law needs to strike a balance between the rights of creators and the rights of users, and that it needs to stay technologically neutral in order to avoid becoming quickly outdated. Yet all of the “user-friendly” exceptions to copyright infringement in educational and personal contexts are trumped by the DRM-circumvention provisions. This means that publishers (or any producers of digital media) need to carefully consider the way that technical protection measures are used with their content, since that decision now has legal sway over any of the consumer’s interaction with their digital material. While it may seem obvious that DRM is used on ebooks to try and prevent illegal copying, it has never been against the law to simply break these locks even if no copying takes place. Overall, it’s a good idea for everyone who creates content in digital spaces to grab a coffee and snuggle up with Bill C-32 to get a sense of it if, and when, it comes into law.