Industry Minister Tony Clement says his department is reviewing a list of copying exceptions issued by U.S. regulators. ((Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press))

A ruling by U.S. regulators that allows Americans to break certain digital locks on content and devices may throw a wrench into the Canadian government's plan to reform copyright law.

The Library of Congress, which oversees the Copyright Office, issued a set of exceptions Monday to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the U.S. law that in many instances makes it illegal to break digital locks put in place by copyright holders.

Chief among the exceptions were allowances for consumers to unlock their cellphones and to "jailbreak" them, or put whatever software they like onto the devices.

The move to allow jailbreaking was strongly opposed by Apple in a 45-page letter sent to the Copyright Office last year. Apple, which maintains strong controls over which "apps" can be put on its iPhone, said its tight management was responsible for the device's success. The company also said wireless networks could suffer "potentially catastrophic" cyber attacks by hackers armed with iPhones laden with unauthorized software.

The Library of Congress, which reviews the digital copyright law every three years, sided with an argument put forward by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The consumer rights group argued that since consumers had bought the iPhone, they owned it and could therefore do whatever they liked with it.

Other exemptions granted by the Library of Congress on Monday included:

  • Allowing people to break technical protections on video games to investigate or correct security flaws.
  • Allowing college professors, film students and documentary filmmakers to break copy-protection measures on DVDs so they can embed clips for educational purposes, criticism, commentary and noncommercial videos.
  • Allowing computer owners to bypass the need for external security devices called dongles if the dongle no longer works and cannot be replaced.
  • Allowing blind people to break locks on electronic books so that they can use them with read-aloud software and similar aides.

Tony Clement, Canada's minister of industry, said on Twitter that his department is reviewing the ruling to see what the implications may be for Bill C-32, the copyright reform legislation he and Heritage Minister James Moore unveiled in June.

C-32 proposes enshrining in law a number of everyday actions, such as unlocking a cellphone, using a PVR, or making a copy of a CD for backup purposes. However, breaking "technical protection measures" or digital locks put on content or devices would trump all other rights granted by the bill, critics have said.

Moore, who has called opponents of C-32 "radical extremists," has defended the digital locks provision by saying it is necessary to bring Canada in line with its responsibilities with the World Intellectual Property Organization Copyright Treaty it signed in 1996.

Prof. Michael Geist of the University of Ottawa, a chief copyright critic, said the U.S. exemptions prove that C-32's digital lock provisions go well beyond what is expected of Canada under the  treaty.

The proposed Canadian rules would be "far more restrictive" than even the U.S. digital copyright act, he wrote on his blog on Monday.

The government plans to begin committee discussions on C-32 when Parliament resumes in the fall.

With files from The Associated Press