Canada's coming DMCA will be the worst copyright yet

The Canadian government is about to bring down Canada's version of the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and it promises to be the worst copyright law in the developed world. It will contain an "anti-circumvention" clause that prohibits breaking the locks off your music and movies in order to move them to new devices or watch them after the company that made them goes out of business -- and it will follow the US's disastrous lead with the DMCA in that there will be no exceptions to the ban on circumvention, not even for parody, fair dealing, time shifting, or other legal uses.

This will be even worse than the last Canadian copyright proposal, the defeated Bill C-60.

But there's hope. The last two Ministers who tried to push through a US-style copyright bill in Canada lost their jobs, thanks in large part to Canada's coalition of artists, educators, archivists, and public-interest activists. Selling Canada's digital future out to a handful of US companies is a bad career move for Canadian politicians.

Gear up for a fight in the New Year. The American record labels, in particular, are said to be well organised and ready to push this through on a fast track (even though they've abandoned DRM in the rest of the world, they view Canada as a weak sister they can push around).

If this law passes, it will mean that as soon as a device has any anti-copying stuff in it (say, a Vista PC, a set-top cable box, a console, an iPod, a Kindle, etc), it will be illegal for Canadians to modify it, improve it, or make products that interact with it unless they have permission from the (almost always US-based) manufacturer. This puts the whole Canadian tech industry at the mercy of the US industry, unable to innovate or start new businesses that interact with the existing pool of devices and media without getting a license from the States.

If this law passes, it will render all of the made-in-Canada exceptions to copyright for education, archiving, free speech and personal use will be irrelevant: if a technology has a lock that prohibits a use, your right to make that use falls by the wayside. Nevermind that you've got the right to record a show to watch later -- or to record a politician's speech so you can hold him to account later -- the policeman in the device can take that right away with no appeal.

If this law passes, it will make Canada into a backwards nation, lagging behind the UK, Israel and other countries that are passing new copyright laws that dismantle the idea of maximum copyright forever and in all things. Link


  1. I wouldn’t lose too much sleep over this…we’ve still got a minority federal government up here, and they’re not going to do anything radical at least until the next election.

  2. On the other hand, the government’s been pushing the Liberal Party pretty hard with unpalatable measures lately. This is a question of whether the Liberal opposition want to risk an election over this issue more than the Conservatives. Since the Liberals were responsible for C-60, I’m guessing they wouldn’t.

  3. @2 – depends whether Harper cares enough about this to make it a confidence vote. Granted, that seems to be his style of governing, and it’ll work as long as the Liberals remain too scared to fight an election.

  4. It’s kinda weird, especially considering the huge percentage of their media that comes from America anyway…

  5. @4 I don’t know what you mean, Dave? Aside from BB and 30 Rock, I rarely encounter American media in my daily routine. I’m normally surfing to sites like Bookninja and Dinosaur Comics, and I actually can’t think of an American band on my iPod at the moment (although I know that there have to be some somewhere on there–but probably under 10% of the total music). I hate to say it, but Canada has a pretty awesome culture, and we would lose very little by ignoring the US “Culture” industry.

    @3 Knowing Harper’s government, they’ll tack it onto another GST cut and make it a confidence vote, then start screaming loudly about how Canadians don’t want another election yet.

  6. Oh, I didn’t know your server is in Toronto. Neat! That said, I still think that you guys cover enough American media for me to mention you in my assessment–anything less would invite comments that I was being dishonest.

  7. Simple answer – mobilise (with an ‘s’). Is there a Canadian equivalent of There should be. This is the sort of issue that MPs *need* to be informed about, need to understand that they are selling away the right to own media for exactly the reasons that you mention above, need to know that they will be limited by the implications as much as anyone else. With a bit of luck it won’t happen… until the next time.

  8. I wasn’t referring to the net, obviously. A quick search for “top tv shows in canada” brings us this:

    “The following is a list of the Top 10 Primetime shows in Canada for the week of September among Adults 18-49 according to BBM Nielsen Media Research

    1. House (Global) – 1.93 million
    2. Grey’s Anatomy (CTV) – 1.42 million
    3. Survivor: China (Global) – 1.34 million
    4. Heroes (Global) – 1.14 million
    5. CSI (CTV) – 1.11 million
    6. CSI Miami (CTV) – 1.1 million
    7. Desperate Housewives (CTV) – 1.01 million
    8. CSI New York (CTV) – 963,000
    9. Prison Break (Global) – 920,000
    10. Family Guy (Global) – 827,000 ”

    “top albums in canada” brings me this:
    “Ultimate Hits” Garth Brooks
    “Noel” Josh Groban
    “American Gangste” Jay-z
    “One Chance” Paul Potts
    “Blackout” Britney Spears
    “Carnival Ride” Carrie Underwood
    “Famous Last Words” Hedley
    “Best Of Andrea Bocelli-vivere” Andrea Bocelli
    “Ryandan” Ryandan
    “Unbreakable” Backstreet Boys
    “I-empire” Angels & Airwaves
    “Soundtrack” High School Musical 2
    “Good Girl Gone Bad” Rihanna
    “Reba Duets” Reba Mcentire
    “Timbaland Presents Shock Valu” Timbaland
    “Exclusive” Chris Brown
    “70s” Sylvain Cossette
    “All The Lost Souls” James Blunt
    “Raising Sand” Plant/krauss
    “Country Heat 2008” Various Artists

    “top films in canada” brings me this:
    Top 10 films in Canada for the weekend of Nov. 16-18, ranked by box office receipts:

    1. “Beowulf” – $2,205,930
    2. “Bee Movie” – $1,362,077
    3. “American Gangster” – $1,299,513
    4. “Fred Claus” – $930,542
    5. “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” – $637,738
    6. “No Country For Old Men” – $312,665
    7. “Dan in Real Life” – $311,320
    8. “Lions for Lambs” – $262,848
    9. “Saw IV” – $191,457
    10. “Love in the Time of Cholera” – $135,370

    Sounds to me like this is a lot of Canadians consuming a lot of American culture.

    Don’t get me wrong– I’m not saying one is better than the other, I’m just pointing out stats. If anything, I’m jealous about all the cool electroacoustic music coming out of Canada… but this is hardly something topping the charts!
    Check out: it’s great stuff!

  9. Dave, fair enough. I guess as an English grad student, I don’t even come close to representing the average Canadian. That said, I can’t help but get defensive the moment someone suggests that Canada has a weak (or, most often, non-existent) culture.

    Interesting lists, btw. I can’t help but notice that Canadian Favourites like Corner Gas and Little Mosque on the Prairie are nowhere to be seen on the TV list. And I don’t even want to talk about the list of movies. As for music, however, I’m both surprised that Canadian music is represented by artists like Hedley (whom I didn’t know even existed anymore) while international favourites like Feist are absent. (in fact, Feist’s absence makes me question the legitimacy of those statistics. Maybe they don’t count indie releases?)

    With regards to this law, I’m always mildly amused that by the fact that Canada’s musicians are overwhelmingly against such legislations seems not to register with the politicians supporting these bills. Sure, they’ve all sold out to corporate interests, but you think that they’d at least try to hide that fact.

  10. That’s kind of what I was getting at, Sadmarvin– these DMCA laws seem more about protecting American interests than those of Canadians. I know that the two countries surely have to work together quite a bit being neighbors and all, but it certainly makes for an interesting relationship with this imbalance.

    As for Boing Boing being Canadian, I did know that Cory was Canadian, and that he’s currently in Britain… but c’mon– this blog reports on so much stuff out of San Francisco it isn’t even funny. I probably won’t even notice when my (SF-based) Wired magazine subscription runs out, seeing how much material of theirs gets linked on here a week after I get it in the mail….

  11. Canadian voters, remember to thank the federal NDP for ushering in this wonderful Conservative overlord government and heeling at their right hand. None of the opposition parties have the wherewithal to oppose this bill in any meaningful way, so I’d get ready to get used to draconian copyright in Canada.

  12. Since this law appears to benefit companies in the United States, perhaps…

    okay, I’m going to put on my tinfoil hat and apply the Time Cube…

    …this is intended as some sort of beginning step towards justifications for the North American Union that would consist of all the North American countries (or at least Canada, the U.S.A, and Mexico.)

    (I don’t really believe this stuff, but it makes me wonder…)

  13. The most suspicious part of this is the timing. Announcing new legislation in December is not the best time for something important – quite the contrary, in fact. It’s the best time to get something buried.

    If it were really announced in two weeks, that would place it three days before the Christmas break. And then you get the government saying “pass this or you don’t go home for Christmas” – followed by royal assent at the end of December. Or it’s announced just after everyone leaves on break, and you can’t get anyone on the phone – until mid-January when something else is the new hot story.

    Meanwhile, you are faced with telling your significant other that you can’t get the kids gifts in order, plan the trip to her mother’s for Christmas, or get the tree up – because you have to go phone twenty or so MPs and explain why they shouldn’t do this?

    Better yet – start calling now. Call your MPs local office. Be prepared to go down and meet them during the holiday season – even Dec 24th. Call their Ottawa office – try to get their legislative assistant, who will be more familiar with actual bills going forward. Find out – don’t wait to be told – who the relevant people are for this portfolio (Industry, and Heritage) from every party. Phone them. Get the list of committee members for those two groups. Phone them.

    Make clear to your representatives that abstention is NOT an option. If you want this blocked, the only vote that matters is a No vote. An abstention only clears the way for a minority government to claim that this is will of Parliament. If it’s your local MP, don’t let them hide behind party policy. Ask them outright whether they are your representative to government and party or the other way around.

    Write two letters to newspapers. Do it NOW. Editors will see the flow, and someone can be assigned to cover the bill because readers are writing in. When someone is covering a bill, that takes time, and they will have to write something about it because that’s where they spent their time. That generates mainstream coverage. If you don’t see your letter in print in a few days, pick a different aspect of the issues and write again. Pick themes that resonate with average Canadians. Be concise and pithy.

    If blocking this legislation really matters to you, then be prepared to give up some Christmas and holiday time. But be warned – timing of political announcements to get maximum political benefit is an ancient art.

  14. Jim Prentice, the Industry Minister, can be reached at I just fired off an e-mail and cc’d Cory and Michael. While e-mail to politicians ain’t much, if they get enough of it, the tend to take notice. I spent 15 years on Parliament Hill, so I’m very aware of how this all works. Speak up. Make noise.

  15. Some say that postal mail makes a bigger impact than email, and postage is waived on letters to your MP in Canada… but email is much easier to send. Here are a couple of steps you could take to get actual letters into the hands of your parliamentarians, with an ease rivalling that of email:

    (i) Find your MP’s address, perhaps via your own postal code;

    (ii) Use a free postal mail service to send a letter to that MP.

    If you’re at a loss as to what you might write, Online Rights Canada can help you fill in the blanks. For the keen, Canadian copyright law expert Michael Geist offers a whole list of things that you can do.

  16. I’ve already emailed the Prime Minister, (who is the MP for my district,) but as I’m currently living in Japan, I’d like to know if the Free postal mail offer still applies? Does anyone know?

  17. Greatly interested in this topic, but woefully undereducated and late to the party. How did a bill such as this, that obviously licks the boots of (mostly) American corporations even get to the House of Commons? Canadian movie and recording lobbyists?

    Writing to my MP immediately.

  18. As much as it’s easy to think that this stuff will be buried, all you have to do is wait for our old friends Barenaked Ladies to stand up and smack some sense into these guys. They still hold a lot of clout in the Canadian entertainment industry.

    Hey Cory, I was just as surprised as you that your blog was American. I guess it’s easy to just assume that everything comes from there – who needs the rest of the world, right?

  19. Thanks for bringing this up… I’ve sent e-mails and letters to Jim Prentce, Gary Lunn (my MP), and Stephen Harper. Here’s the text of my letter. Keep up the good work!

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