An Open Letter to Ministers Prentice and Vernier

Dear Ministers Prentice and Vernier,

Thank you for your e-mail of June 12th, notifying me of the government’s introduction of Bill C-61, and assuring me that certain privileges I now enjoy, such as copying CDs I own onto iPods I own, would be maintained, and that border agents would not be empowered “to seize (my) iPod or laptop at border crossings.” This is, indeed, a relief. However, I remain disappointed by the details of the Bill.

I think you should know that I am an individual this copyright legislation is supposed to protect. I am an author of two young adult fantasy novels and now five non-fiction books for children due to come out later this year. I am a member of Access Copyright, and I am aware of the problems of plagiarism and piracy and the need to limit these activities. However, I also am an individual who believes that people should be as free as possible, that the government should have as little business as possible in our homes.

I fear that this legislation does not fully address the interests of Canadian consumers, or even individual copyright holders, while favouring quite strongly large corporate interests at the expense of individual privacy and individual property rights. For instance, though your legislation expressly allows individuals to copy CDs to other media, such as iPods, it does not extend that same provision to DVDs.

You do realize that Apple’s iTunes has the capability to copy DVD movies into a format that can be viewed from an iPod, don’t you? Why do you believe that this activity, performed by ordinary Canadians, should be criminalized? I’m inclined to believe that the DVD exception was left out as an oversight, but it speaks to the point that the bill is approaching the problem of piracy in the wrong direction. Rather than allowing individuals a blanket right to “format shift” from one media to another the content they have purchased, you have set up “exceptions”, blocking the right to all except those who which to copy music, photos, books, newspapers, magazines and VHS and Betamax videocassettes, and so on. If it isn’t on the list, it appears to become illegal.

Our justice system demands that we be considered innocent until proven guilty. It is shameful to have companies assume that because we want the ability to format shift or time shift or cut and paste, that we will misuse it. Yes, as an author, I would not want an individual to copy whole hog the text of an eBook version of my novel to sell as their own, but if it becomes illegal to circumvent Digital Rights Management provisions to cut and paste a paragraph from my novel to quote in an academic essay, we’ve pushed the law too far. Where is the trust in the trustworthiness of ordinary Canadians?

Moreover, the specified exceptions, allowing Canadians free reign to copy CDs to other media is rendered moot with the blanket prohibition against circumventing Digital Rights Management software on purchased media, even when done in the privacy of one’s home for personal use. This would be like making it illegal to open up my laptop, looking inside, and seeing how it’s put together. I do not see the justice in this. Yes, I’m aware such an act will invalidate my warranty, but it shouldn’t put me in jail.

Similarly, the bill’s apparent blanket prohibition of file sharing programs is an attempt to muzzle the technology rather than catch the criminals. Bittorrents are not just used to download illegal software as the bill’s authors seem to assume; legal software is also distributed in this manner, and I fear that this bill criminalizes my ability to download perfectly legal copies of programs such as NeoOffice using my (currently) perfectly legal piece of bittorrent software.

(Update): Since writing this e-mail, I have learned that there is no blanket prohibition on file sharing programs. I was in error, and I expect I’ll be corrected on this in Prentice’s reply. Instead, the fines of $500 per track for illegally possessing copyright materials like songs or videos increases to $20,000 if you upload said material to peer-to-peer file sharing programs or to YouTube. That removes one of my objections to this bill, but my concerns in other areas remain.

The e-mail continues:

Furthermore, the lack of protections offered by this bill to quote from, parody or criticize copyrighted material disturb me. We have already had cases where companies have used trademark lawsuits to try and shut down sites critical of their activities, and this bill would seem to enhance that ability. The new legislation makes it much more difficult to quote supporting material in academic essays, and requires librarians to ensure that any material they transfer electronically is disposed of within five days. This is a significant imposition on academic freedom in this country, and it could potentially restrict our freedom of speech.

As you run for a party which has argued in favour of personal property rights, I’m surprised that you no longer see fit to protect the right of Canadians to watch what they want, when they want, and how they want after they have legally purchased their song, video or software. You say that this bill is a “made-in-Canada” solution, and yet you failed to meet with any Canadian consumer group while you were drafting this legislation, while sitting down with lobbyists from the American Entertainment industry. The bill as presented criminalizes activities which don’t deserve to be criminalized. It revokes presumption of innocence, and it takes too much power away from consumers.

I cannot support this legislation as it has been presented and ask that it be amended, to tilt the balance more towards the individual Canadians that you are supposed to be serving. Failing that, I ask that you withdraw this bill, and set up public consultations across this country to hear from ordinary Canadians as well as corporate interests. I and many others will be watching Bill C-61 as it proceeds through the House, and I assure you we will be tailoring our votes come the next election accordingly.

Yours sincerely,
James Bow

cc. Karen Redman, MP Kitchener Center
Hon. Stephane Dion, Leader of the Opposition
Charles Angus, MP Timmins-James Bay
Jack Layton, Leader, New Democratic Party
Rt Hon. Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada

Further Notes

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