Consumer groups voice concern over potential digital copyright bill

A coalition of consumer groups has waded into the copyright reform debate, calling on the federal government to avoid introducing legislation that will limit consumer rights.

New U.S.-style legislation could impose serious penalties for illegal downloading

A coalition of consumer groups has waded into the copyright reform debate, calling on the federal government to avoid introducing legislation that will limit consumer rights.

In a letter sent Thursday to Minister of Industry Jim Prentice and Minister of Heritage Josée Verner, the groups said "adapting copyright laws to the modern world and to modern technologies should in no way limit or undermine existing consumer rights or constrain common consumer practices."

They also said technologies that undermine existing consumer rights should be illegal.

The coalition includes members from the Union des consommateurs, Option consommateurs, Consumers Council of Canada, Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC) and Online Rights Canada (

Their letter comes in response to speculation the government may be close to introducing a bill that could impose serious penalties for illegal downloading.

Critics say the bill will likely mirror the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which has drawn considerable criticism south of the border, primarily for opening the door to huge lawsuits by record labels against people who have downloaded music illegally.

The bill was also expected to contain provisions that would have made it illegal to time shift television shows using a Personal Video Recorder, or copy files to CDs and MP3 players.

After reports suggested the updated copyright bill would be introduced this week, Prentice told the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday he would not introduce legislation until he is satisfied it takes into account the rights of both consumers and copyright holders.

But the coalition said that while government has consulted with industry groups, consumer groups have yet to be given a chance to voice their opinion.

Michael Geist, the Canada research chair of internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa and a frequent critic of many of the provisions expected to be introduced, wrote in his blog Thursday that the coalition's letter shows that consumer groups are being left out of the process.

"The letter confirms what has been widely feared — the recording industry may have received assurances of a bill, yet Industry Minister Jim Prentice has still not consulted with Canadian consumer groups," he wrote.

Prentice delayed plans to introduce the bill in December after a chorus of opposition sprang up to provisions the legislation reportedly contained. At the time, more than 20,000 people signed up to a protest group on social networking site Facebook, which has since doubled to more than 40,000 members.

A number of prominent Canadian artists including the Barenaked Ladies, Sarah McLachlan and Avril Lavigne opposed restrictive copyright reform through the Canadian Music Creators Coalition, which was at odds with the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists, the official union for Canada's English-language performers. ACTRA has urged Prentice to speed up reformed legislation.

The Business Coalition for Balanced Copyright, a group that includes Google, Yahoo, Rogers, Telus, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters and the Retail Council of Canada, among others, also announced its opposition to a U.S.-style digital copyright act in February.