Soapbox Time: Bill C-11

As a deeply invested and full time participant in the digital economy I try to follow and get involved in matters that will impact the technology world in Canada.  Right now the Conservative majority government is trying to pass Bill C-11, an update to copyright legislation.  In it they have tried to achieve a few goals such as meeting Canada’s commitment to WIPO treaties, supporting Canadian content producer’s rights to protect their investments and property, and also supporting Canadians’ rights to purchase and consume content in whatever manner they wish.  Where it falls down though is the overriding inclusion of an escape clause.  Basically the entire set of rights granted to Canadians can be thrown out the window if the producer uses a “digital lock” on their product.  If someone breaks that digital lock they are breaking the law.  Period.

This topic is near and dear to my heart and I find myself heavily invested in it, as it touches on my belief that technology should serve people and not the other way around.  I have been in contact with my local Conservative MP, Russ Hiebert, to express my concerns numerous times over the past few years (bill C-11 was originally known as bill C-32 years ago).  I find it disconcerting that politicians are making these decisions while ignoring input from specific parties or groups.  These parties vary from people involved in growing Canada’s technological prowess to pretty much every other political party in Canada.

I urge anyone concerned about copyright, digital locks, or content creation and protection in Canada to at least visit Michael Geist’s excellent blog on these matters.  If your hackles rise when you hear the details about how this legislation is going to be passed then please speak up to your MP as soon as possible.

Two months ago (yes 2 MONTHS) I wrote Mr Hiebert an email trying to frame my concerns in a way that any parent today could understand.  For those interested here is the conversation, including his response received today in the mail, and my latest email back to him.

March 16th, 2012 I wrote:

Dear Mr. Hiebert,

I hope I am not too late to voice my concerns about bill C-11.

I was heartened to hear that the review committee removed some of the more unwarranted restrictions contained in the bill.  However I am very concerned about the digital locks provisions contained in the bill.

Even though the part of the bill about digital locks is relatively small, the effect of the provision is huge – basically rendering any of the rights granted to consumers and artists as null and void should the producer choose to apply a digital lock.

The impact of this is not esoteric.  Here is an easy example you may be able to relate to as you have young children.  I often make copies of DVDs I purchase so that when they are inevitably scratched, broken, or chewed on by my children (who I love dearly), then I can simply make another copy and not invest in replacing the item.  Bill C-11 would make this illegal.  Practically speaking all DVDs have a digital lock applied to them, and making a copy of it requires “breaking” the digital lock.  In fact since I have chosen a non-Windows/Mac operating system I would be unable to play the DVDs legally, as the producers do not support Linux OS.

Let me state that again – I would not be able to play DVDs in my home legally due to the digital locks provision.  Imagine if your family suddenly was unable to watch DVDs legally.

I understand that this provision is contentious and I would like to reiterate that I do not, in any way, support bill C-11 with the digital lock provisions.  The entire bill is rendered pointless by its inclusion.

I strongly doubt that any of your constituents would support the bill if they knew the impact it would have on their everyday lives.  Consumers in general are largely unaware of DRM/digital locks and how they negatively impact their consuming experiences.  Over time this may change but this bill is coming into effect much sooner than a general education effort could support.

Please take a moment to think about this from a consumer’s point of view and not the business’s – Canadians deserve better than bill C-11.

I hope you give this some thought, poll your voters, and go back to your political party and suggest that they listen to the people they have been charged to represent, rather than corporate interests.

Sincerely,

Kirk Bridger

 

May 17th I received his reply, typed up and sent via mail.  I had invited him to reply via email but his office said he would reply in writing.  OK fine, it’s not my money they’re wasting …. oh wait.  Here’s a scan of his letter.

 

I sent my reply to him on May 17.  It is lengthy but if I only get to talk to him 6 times a year then I figure I get to say as much as I want to.

Dear Mr. Hiebert,

Thank you for your letter dated May 3, 2012, in reply to my email.

In it you state that “Consumers can choose to purchase products with digital locks or not.”

Frankly I believe this is false today and that passing bill C-11 will not accomplish this goal.

First it presumes a level of knowledge that is not present in today’s consumer base.  You are attempting to empower the consumer but you are not giving them the tools to help themselves and as a result they will be left to sink or swim in shark-infested waters – hardly a supportive approach to your constituents and to Canadians in general.

What kind of tools am I referring to?

The average consumer does not know what a “digital lock” is.  Nor are the content producers currently identifying in a meaningful way products that use a digital lock.  And to top it off, there are some products that are not available without a digital lock.

If you are going to take the stance that you want to empower the consumer then a few things need to be true:

1 – producers need to provide consumers with understandable information about the digital locks they opt to use and what products are locked with them
2 – non-locked versions of products need to be made available, possibly mandated in some cases

#2 is important to ensure that those consumer who wish to avoid digital locks are able to do so without sacrificing other aspects of their lives.  It is wrong to create a class of consumers that are unable to participate in any market they wish simply because they do not want to support producers using digital locks.  This is the opposite of empowering consumers.

This is not an abstract concept, but it is a complex one because digital locks are so poorly understood today.  If this bill passes then any Canadian not wanting to support digital locks will be unable to purchase and watch DVDs.  They will not be able to purchase mainstream music online.  How is this empowering the consumer?

Your statement that the consumer can simply opt to not purchase products with digital locks misses the fact that digital locks are a key part of much of technology today.  A consumer not supporting digital locks is one who cannot participate in key consumer markets.  They are put at a disadvantage by their choice, and they become second-class citizens.  Producers have no interest in supporting locked as well as unlocked content, and there is no business reason to support consumers who don’t fall in line with digital locks.  Relying on businesses to do what’s right, to support a market they see no value in, is a naive and unrealistic way to see business entities.

If your government wants to empower Canadians, to create a level playing field where we are allowed to make informed decisions about our consumption, where we can support producers who opt out of using digital locks, then you will not pass this bill in its current form.  The escape clause that puts the digital lock as the epicentre of power does not create a level field.  It will allow producers to continue to force consumers into digital locks against their will as technology becomes vital to participating in the Canadian economy and living a lifestyle on par with the average Canadian.

I agree with you that producers have a right to “protect their right to make a living”, but I disagree that this right overrides that of Canadians to participate in a free and open economy.

If you believe that digital locks are required to protect software and products I suggest you look into the Open Source software development movement. You will find many companies developing and creating software and giving it away for free – and making a profit doing so.  Developers, testers, designers, etc all make a living creating a product that is given away, all without digital locks.  The product itself is not the primary driver for business.  The knowledge of the people involved are the true valuable assets.

This requires a change in thinking from the current model where the product created is the property of a business entity and anyone else wanting to contribute to it or use it must do so at a price.  It requires innovative corporate vision and direction.  It requires that businesses take a hard look at their business model and think carefully about how they can innovate and grow in this increasingly technical and open economy.

This legislation does not support this direction.  Instead it supports an old-fashioned and out-dated model of thinking, and passing it will not move Canada forward into the digital age.  Rather it will set us up to play catch-up all while fighting internally about legal rights, digital locks, and copyright in the court system.

Is the challenge before us entirely put at the feet of the consumer, or should the producer also own some of the responsibility to find a solution?  A digital lock is not a solution, it is a mechanism that will be used to avoid finding a solution to new problems.  It allows the producer to avoid challenging its thinking, to avoid evolving with technology.  It removes Canadian’s rights in order to allow the producers this luxury.  I believe there is a better answer than that.

I will sum this up with a simple challenge.  If you believe that “consumers can choose to purchase products with digital locks or not” I would ask you to show me where I can buy a DVD that does not have a digital lock on it.  Show me how this bill empowers Canadians to make informed decisions.

In the future I invite you to communicate via email.  Thankfully there are no digital locks on email technology so I can still use that technology as much as I wish.  🙂

Sincerely,

Kirk Bridger

P.S. If you are unaware of Professor Michael Geist I would recommend reading his take on the bill and the choices your government is making – particularly towards proposed amendments from non-Conservative political parties.  He tends to present a very balanced and reasonable analysis of the state of things.  http://www.michaelgeist.ca/

 

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