Editorial: When music labels attack!

By Ændrew Rininsland

Like a meteor, coldly and silently moving through the heavens on a collision path with the earth, so too do a number of parliamentary bills in the coming weeks that may affect the lives of Canadians in a myriad of negative ways.

The House of Commons resumes Mon., Jan. 28 and the long-awaited update to Canadian copyright law will be revealed sometime shortly thereafter. Many people are fearful the new provisions will resemble the United States’ Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). This legislation makes it illegal to break any technological lock on a piece of media, regardless of whether you own the media or not. Say you own a “copy-protected” CD, which is the majority of commercial music nowadays. Most CD ripping programs don’t care one way or another whether this software is present and rip anyway. However, such an act would be

illegal under the new legislation. Note this doesn’t take into account what you do with the digital copy. It doesn’t matter whether you intend to keep a copy on your iPod so you can listen to Tom Jones’ “It’s not Unusual” while jogging (Clarification: The author of this editorial neither listens to nor endorses Tom Jones. He doesn’t jog either, for that matter.) or distribute his entire discography via Bittorrent. What is made illegal is the breaking of the often badly-programmed and easily removable protection on the content, meaning users merely wanting to use old music with new technology are made criminals.

The DMCA has also had an immensely negative effect on technological research and innovation in the States as well. Consider the Russian programmer who cracked Adobe’s eBook copyright protections, Dmitry Sklyarov.

Sklyarov was arrested while demonstrating his findings at a Las Vegas technology convention and charged with violating the DMCA, potentially costing him jail-time and his employer $500,000 in perceived damages. While Adobe eventually dropped the charges, Sklyarov was restricted to California and not allowed to return home for over half a year. All this for merely researching a software program. He did not copy a million eBooks, he figured out how a piece of code worked. Another example: in the earlier days of the DMCA, a group of Princeton researchers were unable to present their findings of how they circumvented SDMI’s copyright protection after receiving DMCA threats from the Recording Industry Association of America.

It’s important to note here that SDMI challenged researchers to beat its encryption and watermarking technology; when some proved capable of the task, SDMI’s employer pulled the plug and prevented independent researchers from presenting their findings.

In each of these cases, it’s clear a corporate interest overruled the needs of innovative research. This is quite a discouraging precedent for university students, especially those looking forward to conducting extensive research in the future. Even in a regular, day-to-day setting, it makes criminal acts of the many tricks and innovations professors and students have created in order to play older media on newer devices. The rationale of the groups pushing for such legislation is it will protect the rights of content creators and allow them to continue making episodes of Family Guy or whatever while controlling in which markets and at what times their content is released. Those of us who’ve ever imported a DVD from France and had to rerecord it on DVD-R in order to avoid the pointless and costly regional protection will just have to wait until whenever the content provider rereleases that movie in Canada or the U.S., if ever.

The Conservative government has a minority, however, and they presently have the ability to pass whatever legislation they want given the Liberals’ total lack of wanting to run in an election any time soon. This, along with Bill C-26—which gives minimum sentences for some drug-related offenses and aligns us closer with the U.S.-led War on Drugs—will likely pass without much opposition in the coming months. Though the copyright bill was ostensibly delayed for a few weeks due to a massive 40,000 person Facebook group (of all things), the total lack of media interest and, for many people, ultimately arcane content matter of the bill means the Liberals will not be willing to take down the government over the topic and it will pass. It is important for all those interested in the continued technological and creative innovation of our country to oppose this bill by letting our elected representatives and Industry Minister Jim Prentice know any modifications to Canada’s copyright law should allow Canadians to backup and use their legally-acquired content without becoming criminals.

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