Canada’s new copyright bill (C-32) and OECD’s take on intellectual property rights and innovation

Canada’s conservative government introduced a new bill (C-32) on copyright last Wednesday, June 2, 2010. The previous attempt, Bill C-61, died and, as I recall, that death occurred after furious protest largely concerning the ‘digital lock’ provision. This provision was modeled on a similar US provision, which has been highly contested in that country. For a brief description of a digital lock I went to Michael Geist’s blog where I found a posting answering 32 questions about Bill C-32,,

… what are anti-circumvention or digital lock provisions? The short answer is that they are provisions that grant legal protection to technological protection measures (TPMs). In plainer English, traditional copyright law grants creators a basket of exclusive rights in their work. TPMs or digital locks (such as copy-controls on CDs, DVDs, or e-books) effectively provide a second layer of protection by making it difficult for most people to copy or sometimes access works in digital format. Anti-circumvention legislation creates a third layer of protection by making it an infringement to simply pick or break the digital lock (in fact, it even goes further by making it an infringement to make available tools or devices that can be used to pick the digital lock). Under the Bill C-32, it would be an infringement to circumvent a TPM [digital lock] even if the intended use of the underlying work would not constitute traditional copyright infringement. [emphases mine]

I gather that even if I copy something that is now legal in Canada, e. g., make a photocopy of a page from a book for noncommercial purposes, that it will be illegal if I try this with an e-book where I need to break a digital lock. In effect, all copying becomes illegal if there’s a digital lock or other ‘technological protection measure’, which is likely with provisions such as this while we move to using more and more towards using digital media.

Intriguingly, an earlier posting by Michael Geist which focused on the original bill C-61 cited a research paper with a focus on copyright policy in Canada, the US, and Mexico where this was noted,

According to [Michèle] Austin [chief of staff for then Industry Canada Minister, Maxime Bernier], the decision to introduce U.S.-style DMCA [digital lock] rules in Canada in 2007 was strictly a political decision, the result of pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office desire to meet U.S. demands. She states “the Prime Minister’s Office’s position was, move quickly, satisfy the United States.” When Bernier and then-Canadian Heritage Minister Bev Oda protested, the PMO replied “we don’t care what you do, as long as the U.S. is satisfied.” [emphasis mine]

Thankfully, the new bill according to Geist and other sources he cites (I recommend reading his blog if you’re interested in this issue), is fairly balanced overall except for the digital lock provision.

There are two possibilities that come to mind when I consider how this ‘digital lock provision’ in the new copyright bill could have an impact on science in Canada. First, if publishers put locks on articles in science journals, you’d no longer be able to copy and paste selections (properly cited of course) into your own paper.

Second, copyright is a subclassification, along with patents and trademarks, of intellectual property law. While all three are intended to protect the creators of content, products, etc., they are often used as legal tools to intimidate competitors (large corporations or agencies such as the International Olympics Committee) or extort money (patent trolls), which tends to suppress innovation and competition. Restricting use through a new copyright law may not have a direct effect on patent law but the environment in which business and the legal profession operate will be affected and I strongly suspect adversely so.

I mentioned yesterday, The OECD Innovation Strategy: Getting a Head Start on Tomorrow and its Key Findings report. From p. 18,

An important contributor to building such networks and markets is the ability to own certain kinds of knowledge, as recognised by intellectual property rights [IPR]. IPRs provide an important incentive to invest in innovation by allowing firms to recover their investment costs. Patents are particularly important for small firms, as they can facilitate entry into new markets and enable competition and collaboration with other firms. IPRs should be well protected and appropriately enforced. Weak protection of IPRs undermines incentives to invest in innovation, facilitates counterfeiting and piracy, reduces the potential for technology transfer and limits the formation of markets for knowledge.

However, the protection of knowledge needs to be combined with policies and mechanisms that facilitate access and transfer. Excessively strong IPR may hamper the appropriate use of protected knowledge and discourage follow-on research and research in adjacent areas to the detriment of both competition and innovation.

I certainly consider the ‘digital lock provision’ in the current bill (C-32) as excessively strong and I don’t see how it helps innovation and competition (I think competition arises from innovation which is why I put it second).

1 thought on “Canada’s new copyright bill (C-32) and OECD’s take on intellectual property rights and innovation

  1. Pingback: Canada’s Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages declares opponents to Copyright bill are “extremists” « FrogHeart

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