Monday, October 03, 2011

Letter to federal MP Matthew Kellway (Beaches-East York).

Dear Mr. Kellway,

I am writing to you as resident of Beaches-East York to express my concerns regarding the government's Bill C-32, An Act to Amend the Copyright Act. While this Bill does make for some reasonable reforms, it contains two serious flaws.

First, the "digital locks" provision trumps all consumer rights. That is, if a content provider or manufacturer includes any measure to prevent copying -- even something as common as a region-encoding on a DVD -- then there is no right to copy this content. This is true whatever one's purpose, whether it be educational, personal, or simply for backup.

This provision is potentially unconstitutional. It seems to infringe on property rights, which are a provincial responsibility. Moreover, it is entirely arbitrary. The United States has some of the harshest copyright-protection laws in the Western world. But even their laws do not give digital locks this power to override every other consideration.

Second, there is no allowance for personal copying. While I understand that content/media industries are seriously concerned regarding the ease and spread of copying over the internet, there is no legal or technological solution available that can stop, or even seriously inhibit, this activity.

The BitTorrent protocol is already highly decentralized, relying only on central servers -- called "trackers" -- to facilitate peer-to-peer connections. There are already proof-of-concept software applications available which can bypass even this requirement, generating pure peer-to-peer connections with no central servers at all. This, combined with reasonable encryption methods (such as virtual private networks, or VPNs, and blocking of connections by unwanted/suspicious peers) would make proving the existence of infringing activity incredibly difficult, if not impossible.

I believe the government has somewhat recognized this reality, with its reduction of statutory damages to $5000 for all infringing activity. Oddly, though, it seems unwilling to recognize this fully. After all, there still is some penalty for infringement. Furthermore, the bill includes provisions for ISPs to track and warn users of infringing activity. And, at least according to the CBC, it prohibits creating a "library" of content -- a sentence I write while surrounded by several hundred CDs and nearly a thousand books.

On copyright, there is, at base, a simple choice. Either culture belongs to individual citizens, and its creators may profit secondary to that. Or, culture belongs to its creators, and individual citizens must rent it from them. Content/media industries and creators are in a time of transition of their business model, but are not clearly suffering due to infringing activities. Available data suggests that there is more cultural content produced today than twenty years ago, and infringement appears, on the whole, to be helping creators to continue to create, rather than harming them. Even if there were clear financial harms involved, something that has never been proven, the provisions in Bill C-32 outlined above seem to go too far. They provide industry with power and rights, and deprive consumers of options and free use of content.

Bill C-32, in my view, is a foolish and wrong-headed bill, written to satisfy the wants of (primarily corporate) content providers, and reduce the rights of everyone else. The government does not appear to have listened to the extensive copyright hearings and debates over the last few years. Thus it falls upon the Official Opposition to attempt to work with the government to improve this bill. Failing that, it falls on the Opposition to do whatever can be done to stop or hinder its passage.

Yours sincerely,

Adam Rawlings

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