New Canadian copyright bill on downloading delayed
The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, May 14, 2008 6:34PM EDT
OTTAWA - It looks like Canadians may have to wait at least a few more months to find out if they will be allowed to legally copy compacts discs, record television shows, or rip music to their MP3 players.
With the clock running down on the spring session of Parliament, the federal government isn't committing to introducing its long-awaited copyright bill before the long summer break that starts next month.
"I'm not going to speculate on when it is,'' Industry Minister Jim Prentice said Wednesday.
"When (Canadian Heritage Minister Josee) Verner and I have reached a consensus and we're satisfied, we will introduce a bill.''
The bill, which will amend the existing Copyright Act, was first put on the House of Commons order paper in December. The order paper usually indicates bills that are to be tabled within a few days.
The move prompted an outcry on personal and consumer Internet blogs from people worried that Canada was set to follow tough copyright laws in the United States that limit consumers' ability to make backup copies of items they buy.
Prentice has not revealed what his bill will contain, saying it is still -- five months later -- a work in progress.
"Striking an appropriate balance in respect to copyright as between consumers and industry is an important part of the equation,'' he said.
"Once we have that balance right, a bill will be introduced.''
Exactly where that balance will end up could affect everything from how Canadians use their televisions to whether authorities will be able to snoop on what people download through their Internet connection.
The video game industry wants the law strengthened to allow Internet service providers to monitor high-speed downloads and shutdown transfers containing unauthorized copies of games and other files.
"It's clear the ISP's have this capacity,'' said Jason Kee, director of policy with the Entertainment Software Association of Canada.
"Similarly, they actually do have the capacity of basically disrupting particular communications, and that's essentially the kind of activity we'd be seeking.''
The government has also been lobbied by American industry groups to follow the U.S. government's lead and restrict people from making backup copies of compact discs and DVD's which they have purchased legally.
Canada's current copyright law was drawn up long before personal computers and iPods were in every home. As a result of outdated wording and a few court cases, the existing law is a confusing stew of rules that most people are not aware of.
The music industry says Canadians continue to make unauthorized music downloads because the law does not clearly make it illegal. The industry lost a court battle in 2005 when it tried to force Internet service providers to provide the names of downloaders.
Other everyday acts, such as recording a TV show or taking music from a compact disc and putting it on an MP3 player are illegal but are never enforced, says a technology law expert. The new law may add enforcement tools such as fines.
"In Canada even today, taping a television program is an act of infringement, making a backup copy of a DVD ... that's an act of infringement,'' said Michael Geist, who teaches Internet and technology law at the University of Ottawa.
The U.S. copyright law also restricts some people from changing cellphone service providers, by forbidding people from bypassing technological locks embedded in some phones that marry the device to a specific provider.
Instead of following the U.S. model, Canada should look at recent laws in Israel and New Zealand that give consumers some flexibility to use items they have paid for, Geist said.
Prentice says he's looking at a number of countries.
"We can look at what's happened in other countries -- New Zealand, Australia, France, the United States -- to try to search out best practices, and that's part of the analysis we're going through.''