Copyright bill protests surge online

Thousands of Canadians wasted no time protesting the government's copyright reform bill, piling onto websites and internet-based letter-writing campaigns on Friday.

Thousands of Canadians wasted no time protesting the government's copyright reform bill, piling on to websites and joining internet-based letter-writing campaigns on Friday.

More than 7,000 people joined a Facebook group within a day of the bill's introduction on Thursday morning, bringing its total membership to more than 48,000 people.

The group — started on the popular social-networking site late last year by Michael Geist, a University of Ottawa internet law professor — is credited for scaring the Conservatives out of introducing the bill in December after initially attracting more than 20,000 members.

Many of the members of the group posted messages on Friday saying they were taking political action in an effort to prevent the controversial legislation from becoming law.

"I just phoned the Liberal Party of Canada and said I would vote Liberal for the first time in my life if they brought down the government over this bill," Ray Klassen wrote.

"I've requested a in person meeting with Dawn Black, MP for Coquitlam/New Westminster. I live only 1 minute from her office up on Austin," wrote Brian B of Vancouver.

Bill C-61, introduced Thursday by Industry Minister Jim Prentice and Heritage Minister Josée Verner, seeks to update Canada's copyright rules and bring it in line with the country's obligations under the World Intellectual Property Organization treaty signed more than a decade ago. The bill spells out Canadians' rights with respect to digital copying of content, granting permissions to make copies of books, photographs, music and other media.

It found support with a number of entertainment industry groups, including the Entertainment Software Association of Canada and the Canadian Recording Industry Association, who praised it for proposing methods of stopping illegal piracy of copyrighted works.

However, the source of most of the protests is the bill's anti-circumvention clause, which would allow copyright holders to place digital locks on content and thus prevent copies from being made. Critics of the proposed legislation say the clause invalidates all of the other rights granted, thus heavily skewing the bill in favour of copyright holders. 

Website sends e-mails to MPs

The Facebook group has also splintered into regional sub-groups, each with hundreds of members. Most of the groups pointed members to Copyright For Canadians, a website run by the Ottawa-based Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic, and the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation. The website has an automated system that allows visitors to send protest e-mails to their respective MPs. As of Friday afternoon, more than 3,200 messages had been sent.

The copyright bill has set off an unprecedented wave of political activism on the internet in Canada, Geist said.

"What we've seen over the past 24 hours has been nothing short of remarkable," he said. "Literally tens of thousands of Canadians are speaking out with an element of shock that the government would introduce this legislation in the manner that it has."

One reader of Geist's blog e-mailed him to say that the bill's introduction had awakened their sense of political activism.

"Besides voting, I've never taken action politically, but I've now got a face-to-face meeting set up with Guy Lauzon, our MP for [Stormont–Dundas–South Glengarry] on the 24th," the reader wrote. "He'll know first-hand that this bill, if passed, will cause him to lose votes."

Other bloggers also tore into the proposed legislation and the government.

Harper campaigner outraged at bill

Robert Phillips, who said he has campaigned on behalf of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and was a former executive of the Brock University Conservative Club, wrote on Friday that he has turned his back on the party.

"Whether it does or does not pass, the fact remains that the party and whatever candidate happens to be in my riding will receive one less vote come the next election," he wrote.

Many members of the Facebook groups called for rallies to be organized over the summer. A possible focal point will be the Ontario riding of Guelph, where a by-election must be called by September.  Brenda Chamberlain, a Liberal, currently holds the riding but the Conservatives have targeted her seat.

Students at the nearby University of Waterloo, a hotspot of Canadian technology, could turn the by-election into a proxy battle over the copyright bill.

Geist said the sheer number of people protesting online is likely to translate into protests in the real world.

"You're going to see the concern and protests build over the summer rather than go away," he said.

The bill is unlikely to progress much over the next few months as Parliament is due to soon break for its summer session. When it resumes, the bill will receive its second reading and then be sent off to a committee for closer scrutiny. The Conservatives could make it a confidence bill, meaning that if opposition parties voted it down, they would force an election.

Members of the Facebook protest group mused over the possibility of the government being brought down by its copyright bill.

"Wouldn't it be funny if an election was fought over iPods?" wrote Charles Troster of Vancouver.