'Anti-consumer' copyright bill on way: expert

The government is preparing to unveil what may be the "most anti-consumer copyright bill in Canada history," according to University of Ottawa expert Michael Geist.

The government is preparing to unveil what may be the "most anti-consumer copyright bill in Canadian history," according to University of Ottawa expert Michael Geist.

New reform legislation will be introduced in the House of Commons in the next six weeks, likely in June, Geist said on his blog Wednesday. Citing unnamed sources, Geist said the bill would mirror the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act by enshrining copyright holders' rights in several ways, to the detriment of consumers.

The bill would prohibit the breaking of digital locks put on electronic devices and content and not support the notion of flexible fair dealing, where institutions such as schools and the media have copyright exemptions, Geist said.

The result would be a major victory for the U.S.-based entertainment lobby and a major loss to Canadian consumers, thousands of whom participated in a nationwide consultation process held by Heritage Minister James Moore and Industry Minister Tony Clement last year, he said.

Andrew MacDougall, a spokesperson for the Prime Minister's Office, confirmed a new bill is on the way but would not speculate as to what it will contain.

"We'll have to wait to see the bill," he said.

Matthew Deacon, press secretary for Moore, said it was premature to comment on a bill that has not yet been introduced.

"We have not yet tabled the legislation and people ought not to judge the legislation that they have not read."

Geist, who holds the Canada research chair in internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa and is an outspoken copyright advocate, said Moore and Clement have been divided on how to proceed since the public consultations ended.

The heritage minister favoured tough U.S.-style laws and Clement wanted a more consumer-friendly bill, Geist said.

In the end, Prime Minister Stephen Harper sided with Moore, Geist said.

"The consultation appears to have been little more than theatre, with the [Prime Minister's Office] and Moore choosing to dismiss public opinion."

The new bill would be the government's latest attempt to update Canada's copyright legislation, with the previous two tries meeting with fierce opposition from the public.

The government backed off on its first attempt in late 2007 after Geist leaked details of a plan to introduce similar U.S.-style laws. Tens of thousands of people joined a Facebook protest group while demonstrations took place at the Calgary office of Jim Prentice, then the industry minister, and elsewhere.

The second attempt, introduced as Bill C-61 to Parliament in June 2008, was praised by copyright holders but criticized by consumer advocates and opposition politicians for containing several anti-consumer measures, including a clause that made it illegal to break digital locks on devices and content. The bill died when Harper prorogued Parliament in December 2008.


Peter Nowak


Peter Nowak is a Toronto-based technology reporter and author of Humans 3.0: The Upgrading of the Species.