The federal government tabled legislation on Thursday that it claims will see individuals fined a maximum of $500 if they are caught downloading copyrighted files.

However, industry experts say the figure is a smoke-screen and that the legislation sets the stage for fines that could reach the millions.

Industry Minister Jim Prentice tabled the proposed amendments to the Copyright Act in the House of Commons on Thursday.

The proposed amendments include:

  • New exceptions that will allow Canadian consumers to legally record television shows for later viewing and copy legally acquired music onto other devices, such as iPods or cellphones
  • An explicit ban on peer-to-peer file sharing
  • New exceptions for some educational and research purposes
  • New rights and protections for those who create content

Provisions to address the liability of Internet service providers and the role they should play in curbing copyright-infringing activities on their networks

The new legislation would also make it illegal to copy a CD or DVD if it involves breaking a so-called "digital lock" place on the material by a distributor.

Prentice said one of the motivations behind the amendments was to balance the rights of those who hold copyright with the needs of users accessing copyright works.

"This is a unique made-in-Canada approach to copyright reform," Prentice told reporters Thursday. "This is truly a win-win situation for Canadian consumers who use digital technology and for everyone who creates material that becomes digitally accessible."

Made-in-U.S. approach?

However, David Fewer, staff counsel at the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, compared the amendments to a "wolf in sheep's clothing."

Fewer, speaking to CTV Newsnet on Friday, said the amendments are not "made in Canada" but are instead similar to legislation in the United States.

He said the legislation paves the way for the kind of file-sharing lawsuits that have occurred in the United States.

Fewer said the $500 maximum fine for downloading is not applicable to situations where a user makes their copyright files available for others to access.

"So if you have music or video in your shared folder you are subject to the ordinary rules of statutory damages -- which is $500 to $20,000 per work -- that could be millions of dollars worth of damages," he said.

The $500 fine limit could also be increased depending on how many people hold copyrights to the illegally shared document, said copyright lawyer Howard Knopf.

For example, each song generally contains three copyrights -- for the music, the sound recording and the performance -- allowing for fines of $1,500 per song in those cases.

"If you've got 1,000 or 2,000 songs, it could be hundreds of thousands of copyrights," he said Thursday on CTV's Mike Duffy Live. "I'm not sure the $500 limit is going to help anyone... There are a lot of things in the bill they aren't what they seem to be."

Musician Safwan Javed echoed these sentiments, saying the bill seems to designed to favour corporations such as record labels above the creators of the content.

"Look at the example south of the border, which this legislation essentially mimics," said Javed, the drummer from the band Wide Mouth Mason and a law student. "It's been a strategy of suing fans. We don't believe this benefits musicians in any way. We believe it benefits the corporate stakeholders."