Digital copyright concensus emerges by bits and bytes

Industry leaders are moving closer to concensus when it comes to digital copyright law in Canada.

Trinity-Spadina MP Olivia Chow of the NDP hosted a public forum on copyright law in the digital age and how to deal with Internet file sharing on March 18 at the University of Toronto. Around 150 users and creators of music and art attended.

Michael Geist, the Canada research chair in Internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa, participated in the discussion with executive director of ACTRA Stephen Waddell and executive director of Songwriters Association of Canada Don Quarles.

During the discussion, the panel participants came to a consensus that Canadian digital copyright law needs a balance between user rights and ensuring payment to creators of intellectual property.

The Conservative government’s Bill C61 is currently waiting to be reintroduced to the federal Parliament, probably sometime in the fall, according to federal NDP digital affairs critic Charlie Angus. It died on the order paper when the House was dissolved in September.

The bill has been criticized for being too restrictive on user and consumer rights. As Liberal international trade critic Scott Brison told the CBC recently, the bill would bring about a “police state” in Canadian digital copyright law.

Individuals could be fined up to $500 for downloading music, and up to $20,000 for circumventing a “digital lock” or uploading copyrighted material to the Internet.

Geist criticized the bill for legally enshrining digital locks, which prevent users from transferring their media from one format to another. If someone purchased a music CD that has a digital lock, it would be illegal to use software to bypass the lock to transfer the music to a portable media player.

Angus said that legislation should not seek to limit and punish file sharing on the Internet. People that download music aren’t intent on stealing it; they just “really love it” and want to access it the most convenient way for them, he told the Observer.

“You shouldn’t, as a business model, attack the people who love you,” Angus said candidly.

Legislators need to implement a Canadian-born and democratically founded reform to the copyright laws he explained. Although people might have to pay a little more, it’s necessary for a “robust society,” a “democratically spirited Internet” and for artists to succeed.

“The future is not about adversarial relationships, and especially with our consumers,” Quarles said along the same line. “Rather it’s about further monetizing the new uses of music.”

Quarles presented a songwriters proposal at the discussion – an alternative to Bill C61. He suggested establishing a fee that would be charged to anyone who uses their Internet connection for the purpose of downloading music.

This would allow people to access and use music any way they like on the Internet, while at the same time ensuring payment to the creators. Those that don’t use the Internet to download music would have the option to “opt out” of paying the fee.

“We don’t care what you do. We don’t actually want to change your behavior,” Quarles said. “Our focus is making sure creators get paid.”

According to Quarles, 90 to 95 per cent of the amount of sharing that goes on is unauthorized activity. He thinks legitimate businesses such as iTunes are great, but they are dwarfed by the scale of illegal file sharing on the Internet through peer-to-peer programs and “broadcasts.”

Peer-to-peer file-sharing programs such as LimeWire allow millions of users from around the world share their music over the Internet through the program’s software. Broadcasts on the other hand involve single entities distributing files en masse.

In his closing statements, Waddell commented on the agreement that had developed during the discussion, and the need to unite behind an alternative to Bill C-61.

“Let’s move forward,” Waddell said. “Let’s provide a united front to the government.”

Filed by Andrew Hood