Copyright law reform in Canada

The Canadian government is expected to introduce copyright legislation modeled on the controversial American Digital Millennium Copyright Act. How will this affect Canadians' everyday life? To explain this issue, CIPPIC has produced this short video (requires Adobe Flash Player):

Forbidden shifting - A Canadian DMCA?

Related links:,,,,, Fair Copyright for Canada Facebook group

Want to know more about copyright in Canada? Michael De Santis and Pierre-Marc Gendron, two Law faculty students, research assistants at CIPPIC, wrote the newspaper article below, published in the February-March edition of Ottawa University's interPares. It mainly targets students, but this is a topic that concerns all Canadian consumers.

On a collision course with the world's worst copyright law regime

by Michael de Santis and Pierre-Marc Gendron

A great deal of attention would have to be given to the Throne Speech “Strong Leadership A Better Canada” to understand its implications (October 2007). One phrase in the speech exclaimed “Our Government will improve the protection of cultural and intellectual property rights in Canada, including copyright reform”. This demonstatrated a clear intent on the part of the Conservative party to succeed where the Liberals had failed with their bill C-60 which died in November 2005. Though copyright reform may not be foremost on many student’s minds, it is a very important issue that deserves their attention. Copyright law affects students in many ways, from the amount they pay for their course materials, the way they are able to access academic material through their library and the way they are able to reproduce such material. Though Industry Minister Jim Prentice intended to submit a new copyright reform bill on the 11th of December, he did an about face and decided to put it off. The fact that the bill was delayed will benefit students, however, should the new bill come to pass, it will leave many important areas of reform for students unaddressed.

Before examining the negative consequences that might result from such a bill, it is worth noting that copyright is currently a very hot topic for lobbyists on Parliament Hill. It is unsurprising that the source of these efforts is the American entertainment lobby, and is funded in part by the billions in profits it earns every year. This industry has repeatedly criticised Canada for being one of the primary sources of pirated entertainment in the world! Still, the entertainment industry is not the only player exerting pressure on the Canadian government. The United States government does not seems to have any qualms about suggesting its own copyright model should be applied in Canada.

At present, there are few details known about the pending copyright bill. What little is known, however, is worrisome, as the bill will not include some important amendments that Canadians deserve. The bill will likely be modelled on the U.S. Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA). The DMCA allows for content owners rights to trump the privacy, fair dealing, back up and first sale rights of consumers by affording legal protection to Digital Rights Management systems or DRM. DRM systems are technological locks that limit the way consumers can use the media they buy. The DMCA renders any circumvention of a DRM system tantamount to an infringement of copyright. The privacy implications of such a law are serious enough that Canada’s Privacy Commissioner, Jennifer Stoddart, has issued warnings about DRM systems. According to her, the use of DRM, is not a threat in and of itself. However, many DRM systems in use today collect and transmit private details about users to the content owners, often without the users being aware that it is even happening. The Sony rootkit incident of 2005 serves as an excellent example, when code surreptitiously installed by Sony music CDs onto user’s computers rendered those computers unstable and very vulnerable to hackers and malicious attacks.

There is a final point to consider before delving into the consequences of the new bill on us, students. There are some important copyright exceptions that will be missing. American copyright exceptions are broader in many ways and more flexible than current Canadian ones, and help soften the effects of copyright somewhat. In the United States, fair use exceptions allow a student to copy a protected work freely for academic purposes, but Canadian copyright law, in many cases, arguably, does not.

This bill will affect students in several ways. First, anti-circumvention laws will severely constrain the way that students are able to access and reproduce academic materials online may significantly limit access to materials in the public domain. Additionally, no protection for time or space shifting rights will severely limit the way that students and other consumers may legally reproduce copyrighted material they legitimately own.

The growing popularity of iPods and other MP3 players has marked the revolutionary way we listen to music and, more recently, the way we watch videos; through digital devices. Imagine for a moment that you have just acquired a new disc from your favourite musician. You would likely be anxious to transfer it to your iPod, for the sake of convenience. This is known as space shifting. You might be surprised to learn that this would be an infringement of copyright, as would the transfer of any videos you own to a video iPod. Perhaps more surprising is that time shifting, or the act of recording a broadcast for later enjoyment, is also illegal. So all those episodes of your favourite shows that you have recorded also violate copyright.

The last major revision of The Copyright Act in 1996 saw a provision added that gave consumers the right to back-up copies of software that they had legitimately purchased. This clause was added due to the fragile nature of the media that software was encoded onto in order to preserve a consumer’s investment. Since 1993, CD ROM discs have also been used to distribute music and modern DVD movies employ a similar medium, however, the law does not permit either of these types of media to be backed up. Such practices are reasonable and any new copyright bill should address these gaps in Canadian policy. Consumers should have the right to back up their CDs and DVDs.

In the context of academic studies, a recent Supreme Court decision, CCH v. LSUC found that excerpts of protected works could be freely copied for academic work. The amendments proposed by the bill would allow you to continue this practice, for traditional, non-digital media. The bill would forbid the practice however, if the digital media you wished to copy was protected by DRM. In a recent speech, professor Michael Geist gave the example that it would be legal for him to bring a photocopier to his class to make copies of works available to his students, but that it would be illegal according to the pending bill to distribute the same document electronically to his students by email. Clearly, any new copyright bill should address this bizarre legal workaround.

Despite the threat that such a bill would pose, all is not lost. As this article went to press, the bill had still not been tabled. There are still measures you can take to protect your rights.

  • You can voice your disagreement with the new bill by joining over 40,000 other Canadians at Michael Geist’s Fair Copyright for Canada Facebook group. This group is widely believed to have pressured Industry Minister Jim Prentice into not submitting his bill.
  • You can also discuss the situation with friends and family. A nice way to do this would be to watch the video produced on the topic by the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic on this page. You can also learn more at these sites:,,,,
  • Make sure that music you buy is not locked by DRM systems
  • Also, be sure to write to your Member of Parliament and let them know how you feel about the subject. For details about how to do this, visit
  • Finally, contact the Canadian Federation of Students and let them know that copyright is an important issue that affects you and your collegues. They represent you and should ensure your voice is heard.

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This page last updated: February 19, 2008