Canada's DMCA: understanding the "digital locks" provision

Canada's version of the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act has been introduced, and while it offers a host of promises about consumer rights (such as the right to record a TV show with a PVR or rip a CD and put the music on your computer), it also allows rightsholders to confiscate those rights merely by adding a "digital lock" (also known as DRM) to the work. Breaking these locks is illegal in itself, so you don't get any rights if a rightsholder chooses to use one.

Michael Geist sez, "The digital lock provisions have quickly emerged as the most contentious part of Bill C-32, the new Canadian DMCA. This comes as little surprise, given the decision to bring back the digital lock approach from C-61 virtually unchanged. The mounting public concern with the digital lock provisions (many supporters of the bill have expressed serious misgivings about the digital lock component) has led to many questions as well as attempts to characterize public concerns as myths. In effort to set the record straight, I have compiled 32 questions and answers about the digital lock provisions found in C-32. The result is quite lengthy, so I will divide the issues into five separate posts over the next five days: (1) general questions about the C-32 approach; (2) the exceptions in C-32; (3) the missing exceptions; (4) the consumer provisions; and (5) the business provisions. For those that want it all in a single package, I've posted the full series as a PDF download."

Setting the Record Straight: 32 Questions and Answers on C-32's Digital Lock Provisions, Part One


  1. Isn’t there DRM on all cable channels anyways? You need a special box to decode the signals.

    1. Yeah, the engineers ought to be able to lock them out without the need for new laws about the technology.

      OTOH, my guess is that the copyright-guys want blu-rays to be a non-rippable media: and for now, Law shall be the preferred manner of achieving this end.
      Although I doubt that engineering work will stop on a “crack-proof” system.
      Nor indeed shall the work stop seeking to crack such systems.

      I can only assume that the proposed legislative changes are meant to increase revenues for some, and thus by implication, to increase the amount which would otherwise, ie in the absence of this Law, need to be paid by others for the material.

      Otherwise, why change the Law, at all?

      Let the compromising and composing of differences commence, for those who have sufficient interest in these matters to engage in this debate.

  2. DRM on cable? Depends on your provider. Some cable providers put open QAM digital signals on the wire for the local broadcast signals — other cable providers only put analog on the wire, and use encrypted QAM (or something proprietary), thus requiring the cable box. And since Canada is the land lacking CableCards, you *do* need the box in those cases. But it depends on your local provider.

    More generally, the discussion on “digital locks” is correct as far as it goes. However, the actual wording doesn’t say ‘digital’ — it almost always says Technological Protection Measure. This means it also covers *analog* copy prevention measures. So – your old VHS collection, full of purchased content that may no longer be available, and for which you may soon no longer be able to buy a playback device, is not allowed to be format-shifted, even for your own private use.

    The easiest step to fix this would be to only disallow circumvention in the service of a copyright violation. You can’t copy your purchased and protected VHS tape to YouTube, but you can copy it to a DVD so that you can still watch it in years to come. This would likely mean enhanced penalties for circumvention+violation. But if there is no violation, then circumvention doesn’t matter.

  3. Cutting to the meat: copyright holders wish that the license they sell to enjoy their content ONLY attach to the actual factual physical media embedding the content. New format = new sale, new profit.
    Users OTOH want the license to cover the content ONLY: and once that has been paid, to be able to obtain unlimited downloads and copies of that content, as media is damaged or as it obsolesces.

    Almost as if the consumers wish to “disembody” their rights to enjoy (ie copy & format-shift at will for their personal use, once the initial license fee is paid)…whilst the copyright holders demand a physical embodiment – and that thus some limitations, of a particular kind – accompany that license.

    1. @4: Precisely. Big Media companies have ALWAYS been against format-shifting; when they bring out a new format they insist that owning it in the old format does not constitute the right to enjoy it in the new format. Consumers have always thought this argument was bullshit, of course. We copied our vinyl records onto cassette tapes and the record companies said we were thieves. We ripped our CDs into mp3s and the record companies said we were thieves. The “there is no such thing as a legal mp3” argument was heard time and time again: we knew it was bullshit and we ignored it.

      Sadly, now all a media company has to do is place a digital lock of any kind on a product and we become re-criminalized, at the hands of the very people we elected to represent us. The very people we elected to protect us from being run over roughshod by multinational conglomerates.. and we’re being sold out for campaign donations and backroom dealings.

      Fuck this law, and fuck anybody that tries to pass it.

    2. close, but it’s worse than that even. the publishers actually want a non-transferable license that tied to each instance of the physical media. this is illustrated quite succinctly in their attitudes towards used cd shops.

  4. I wonder how this is worded. Is it about simply having a lock or the actual breaking of the lock?

    What if the movie is ripped and the lock broken in some country that does not have that law, then that same person makes a torrent of it.

    If I download that torrent, is that “circumventing” the lock? I didn’t break it, and the person that did,was doing it legally. If I simply obtain an unlocked copy somewhere down the line, would I still be liable for the breaking of that lock simply because it is no longer present?

  5. Ah jeez, I was only halfway done ripping my legally-acquired media to my NAS. Guess I’ll have to “pirate” the rest of it by way of format-shifting.

    Nice to know all those letters we sent had an effect…

  6. There is an easy solution to this, just don’t buy anything with DRM in it.

    If you accidentally buy something, take it back and say not fit for purpose, it doesn’t play on my DVD/Blueray/CD/mp3/iphone/whatever.

    When you see an artist supporting DRM just point at them , laugh and say Corporate Junkie. remind them that traditional artists work in the street for food and shelter, not to keep share holders in a new Porsch every year.

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