From the inimitable Michael Giest comes the news that the controversial Bill C-11 (aka the copyright reform bill), took effect in Canada this week. The bill introduces a host of new consumer-oriented provisions including fair dealing provisions for education, satire and parody; a fair dealing provision for time shifting, format shifting and making of backup copies; an exemption for public performances in schools; and others, which Geist details in his write-up.

There is a big ‘but’ coming, though: The law also controversially includes a much-opposed digital locks provision which basically trumps all of the new rights it gives to Canadian consumers. If there is a digital lock present, one is not permitted to break it—even for purposes specifically allowable under the new law. Geist testified before the committee drafting the law, and he lobbied hard for a personal use exception that would permit digital lock circumvention if it was for non-infringing purposes. But his supposition is that the Canadian government bowed to pressure from American lobbyists and so ignored the concerns raised by Canadians.

For those, like myself, who do buy legal content and who sometimes have to contend with digital locks in some way, there are, of course, some loopholes:

♦ A specific exemption to the digital lock rule is given for those who need to modify ‘computer software’ for ‘interoperability.’ If one could argue that their ebook is actually software, this exemption could arguably apply.

♦ A specific exemption to the digital lock rule is also given for those who have a ‘perceptual disability’ and need to make the file readable. If you have reading glasses prescribed by a doctor, as I do, and your preferred reader has font options which help you read, this exemption could arguably apply.

♦ The bill notes specifically that in non-commercial cases, liability is limited to actual damages incurred. If no actual damages are incurred, your usage may still be technically illegal—but they can’t sue you for it, and indeed, government representatives have specially said they won’t go after people for personal use.

I am deeply disappointed that this law passed with the digital lock provision still intact. I think the government might not realize what a slippery slope it is establishing here. If breaking a digital lock on your legitimate purchased copy for your own personal use is now just as illegal as downloading a free copy off a torrent site, what incentive, from a practical standpoint, will users have to make the legal purchase?

Yes, it is ‘wrong’ to pirate. But now, it’s also ‘wrong’ to buy a Kobo book and then unlock it to read on a Kindle. So if one is ‘breaking the law’ anyway, why not have the free, unlocked copy?

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"I’m a journalist, a teacher and an e-book fiend. I work as a French teacher at a K-3 private school. I use drama, music, puppets, props and all manner of tech in my job, and I love it. I enjoy moving between all the classes and having a relationship with each child in the school. Kids are hilarious, and I enjoy watching them grow and learn. My current device of choice for reading is my Amazon Kindle Touch, but I have owned or used devices by Sony, Kobo, Aluratek and others. I also read on my tablet devices using the Kindle app, and I enjoy synching between them, so that I’m always up to date no matter where I am or what I have with me."


  1. The fact that a law is in place doesn’t mean anything unless they enforce it. I don’t put DRM on my books, so people are free to do as they please when they buy them. If these laws were effective, then we wouldn’t have robust and busy pirate sites.
    I guess for those authors who spend time finding out if someone has violated their copyright it’s nice to have a law to fall back on.

  2. Yes, the law is far from perfect, but it is refreshing to see that Canada is doing something about copyright law. Neither the U.S. nor the international community (Berne) have made any significant changes to copyright laws since the 1970s. It’s a bit like finding out that, in the 1950s, most traffic laws assumed people were still driving horses and buggies.

    Publishers should be concentrating on adding value to those who buy ebooks from them rather than attempting to fight piracy with DRM. That could include:

    1. Maintaining a online copy of every ebook you buy for them in multiple formats. That’d spare us the hassle of finding a way to store digital copies. O’Reilly already does that.

    2. Allow those digital copies to be probated as part of a will. While not quite the same as allowing people to sell their ebooks like they were used paperbacks, it would at least establish that people own something that others can inherit. That might be more popular with music than ebooks, but it is something that matters.

    These online repositories would also give publishers something they’d desperately like to have, a way to duplicate Amazon’s ability to know who reads what sort of book. When a new Stephen King novel comes out, they’d know just how to contact his fans.

  3. I tried to give the government the benefit of the doubt when they said they were going to consult with the public on this legislation but my skepticism was validated when it became apparent that they weren’t really listening. They were only listening to the lobbyists. All the opposition parties recognized that the DRM provision was faulty but the government passed it anyway. The consumer rights in the bill were just lip service. Bad legislation like this just builds a contempt for the law.

  4. Sounds to me like Canadian law makers have it both ways. They can’t be blamed for subverting the economy because they passed the bill and they can’t be blamed for trampling on consumers’ rights because those rights are specifically enumerated and, for those things missed, there’s the potential exemptions mentioned.
    It’s as if we all know that DRM is useless but we all have to pretend otherwise lest we be paired with unsavory people and practices. It’s all facade.

  5. I object to your headline, Joanna.
    You know very well that we don’t _break_ the encryption. :) We simply find and use the key they (had to) put on my (I bought it, I made it, I own it) device.

    That’s we, in the sense of _the general public_, not you or me specifically, of course.

  6. That’s about the same as the current LOC regulations for the DMCA in the US. Illegal to break DRM; exceptions for interoperability (likely means breaking DRM to allow reading on another device is legal, but untested in court as far as I know), legal to break DRM if the DRM blocks accessibility (for example, if it blocks the “read aloud” function, which most DRM does). Plus, the courts have so far sided with the user breaking DRM provided it is done for personal use only.

    So this new Canadian law basically mirrors what we’ve had in the USA for a couple of years now… 😉

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