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Digital copyright bill is going to lock us all in

Rory McGreal has a good article on the new copyright bill being proposed by the Government of Canada.

For parents who would wish to cut exorbitantly aggressive, anti-religious or sexual content from a video, this option is now closed because of digital locks. Systems operators who suspect inappropriate use of the system such as viewing child pornography will not be allowed to break any locks that the pornographer applies to his content. Nor would the systems supervisor have the right to own the software that would break the lock.

Does anyone doubt that vendors will apply the digital locks or TPMs (Technological Protection Measures)? If they do, the tourist who legally bought a Boondock Saints DVD abroad will no longer be able to play it when he returns home. You can forget about playing your CD music on your MP3 player. And you will be able to only dream of the days when you could time-shift your television shows.

Well, at least we should still be able to back up our work for protection, right? Sorry, this will not be possible if the vendor decides to add a digital lock. If you think you can freely read classical books and view the old movies that are in the public domain, think again. Vendors can lock them up and render them accessible only to paying customers. What if you want to play a DVD on your machine, but don’t use MS Windows? Too bad if the vendor decides to limit your use to Windows because using decryption software to play your legal copy on your computer will be illegal.

If you are a student, teacher or school principal, it is even worse. You must destroy what you paid for within 30 days of the final exam, even if it is a Biology I module that just might be useful when you are studying or teaching Biology II. If you are a researcher, you must make paper copies of all your documents and destroy the digital copies within five days. Libraries too will be severely restricted in their abilities to archive valuable historical documents that are locked. Our cultural heritage will be at risk.

These situations are really possible. If digital lock supporters feel they are unlikely, that’s the point. The bill is omnibus and universal, prohibiting all manner of reasonable activities whether they are likely or far-fetched. So, what would be a balanced and reasonable solution? Certainly creators and publishers have every right to protect their "intellectual property" using locks. On the other hand, the Canadian Supreme Court has ruled heavily in favour of the rights of users to make fair use of the copies that they pay for. So, with digital locks come digital responsibilities. Vendors cannot be allowed to protect their rights by taking away users’ rights.

One Comment

  1. Ed West says:

    Prior to the internet, it was possible to copy select pages from books in libraries and it still is. It is possible to get certain visual materials from libraries. Intellectual Property owners are rightly concerned about the egregious excesses of so-called ‘file sharing’ sites, and a quick visit to any would quickly identify movies, books and other media that are not being shared but stolen. The assumption is that somehow, it’s OK. The heritage of any country is not at risk today. Libraries can perform a certain part of that function and if I have to buy a region specific DVD, I’m fine with that. No one is entitled to a complete work that took real time, real talent and real money to produce for free.

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