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Would Bill C-61 have protected copyright violators?

By Paul Jay, CBCNews.ca. When the Conservative government attempted to introduce an update to copyright legislation last year - Bill C-61 - one of the chief complaints of the bill was the anti-circumvention provision, which essentially made it illegal to break digital locks placed on software or digital data such as music or movie files.

Critics said the provision essentially undermined whatever freedoms the bill might have granted consumers to use, copy, share or store files, since performing many of these actions often required breaking locks such as digital rights management (DRM) software, a much-loathed feature found on some media and music files.

Now, as the federal government takes a closer look at copyright in preparation for a new bill expected in the fall, yet another criticism has emerged of anti-circumvention laws. Evidently, they favour copyright violators.

In a submission to the government as part of its ongoing copyright consultations, economist Joseph Potvin outlined what he sees as the dangers of Bill C-61, which he said could be broadly applied to any computer program.

One of the consequences of applying C-61 to computer programs, he says, is that it would make it illegal to check if a program is compliant with the law if that program is itself encrypted.

"When any type of shield is implemented, even if it is trivial to circumvent, the Bill C-61 amendments would prevent legitimate copyright holders from legally examining source and binary computer program code distributed by suspected violators. Copyright and contract infringers can therefore use these protections to conceal violations. If violations cannot be discovered legally, then enforcement is impractical."

The only ones who would be able to check for violations would be companies with deep pockets, he said, since they might reasonably be able to afford the penalties of a "fishing expedition."

The whole submission is an interesting read and once again brings up the point that legislation too broad in scope can often have unforeseen ramifications.

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