Loose Cannon: When “you” are not the author

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

  • The Copyright Modernization Act tabled by the Conservative government in June, is one attempt to address copyright reform in th

    The Copyright Modernization Act tabled by the Conservative government in June, is one attempt to address copyright reform in th

Written by Greg Beneteau

The issue of copyright reform and intellectual property is one close to the hearts of many students, even if they don’t know it.

Whenever you write an exam, download a song from the internet or watch a movie, you’re enjoying the creative works of others. These pieces often require many hours of work to produce and incorporate the talents of a highly educated, modern workforce.

Although authors and publishers continue to claim exclusive rights to control creative content they own, they must also contend with technologies that allow consumers to easily access, copy and distribute creative content, often without paying creators for the privilege.

Sadly, many students do not seem to be up to speed on the even the most most rudimentary aspects of copyright law, as I learned the hard way this fall.

As Editor of thecannon, I spent a great deal of time during the month of September tracking down users who were selling intellectual property through the textbook classifieds page.

Some users had even made a business out of selling copies of old midterms, exams, lab reports, quizzes and course notes that were, in fact, intellectual property belonging to the people who created them.

Some  enterprising young individuals even put “Me” under the author heading of their ads, despite the fact only the answers to particular questions were created by them.

When confronted, many people reacted with shock – they were unaware that selling other people’s work for profit was against the law.

Others hid behind the familiar argument that “everyone is doing it.” (A hint: don’t ever use that excuse in court).

As the up-and-coming generation, students need to be fully aware about what copyright is and how it works. They also need to be engaged in ongoing discussions about how to fairly balance the rights of producers and the rights of consumers.

The Copyright Modernization Act (C-32), first tabled by the Conservative government in June and likely to be debated again this fall, is one such attempt to address copyright reform in the modern age.

The bill contains many provisions that attempt to bring Canada’s copyright legislation into the 21st century. Among other things, the Bill C-32 would:

-Extend the definition of fair dealing, or exceptions to copyright, to include parody, satire, education and sampling (provided it’s not used to make profit);

-Legitimize “format shifting” for personal use, such as uploading music from a CD onto an MP3 player;

-Protect Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from legal liability for the actions of subscribers who make available or download copyrighted content without authorization.

-Cap statutory damages that can be claimed for non-commercial copyright infringement to a one-time payment of between $100 and $5000.

The Copyright Modernization Act is not without its detractors. Among the most contentious changes are legal protections for digital locks on CDs, DVDs, e-books, and other devices made popular in the United States.

Under Bill C-32, the rights of companies to digitally lock out consumers from copying content trump virtually all other rights in the bill, including fair dealing and format shifting.

Critics have slammed the new rules as heavy handed, claiming they will restrict Canadians from enjoying content they have legitimately purchased. Consumer advocates, librarians and academics have also expressed concern that digital lock protections will stifle creativity and curtail the sharing of information through digital mediums.

While I respect the rights of musicians, programmers and other creators of digital works, I suspect the new digital lock provision of Bill C-32 comes too little, too late. Consumers have become quite accustomed to having the “right” to copy music, movies and other media for personal use.

Trying to implement new restrictions – to put the digital genie back in the bottle, so to speak – will only result in millions of Canadians being considered criminals on paper.

The solution, as proposed by such experts as Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, is simple: make bypassing a digital lock legal so long as the consumer is doing it for legal porposee.

This is a debate that is likely to continue well into the current session of Parliament. Students would do well to follow the arguments and brush up on the law, lest they find themselves on the wrong side of it.

Greg Beneteau is Editor-in-Chief of thecannon. Loose Cannon publishes every Thursday in The Ontarion Student Newspaper at the University of Guelph.

The opinions posted on thecannon.ca reflect those of their author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Central Student Association and the Guelph Campus Co-op. We encourage all students to submit opinion pieces, including ones that run contrary to the opinion piece in question.

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