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Canadians Speak Out Against Digital Locks. But Who's Listening?

The second reading debate on new copyright legislation Bill C-11 will conclude today. Canadians have been speaking out on copyright reform in general and digital locks in particular for years with widely held views, but will the government listen with the bill now headed to committee for further hearings?
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The second reading debate on Bill C-11 will conclude today with the bill headed to committee for further hearings and possible amendment.

Yesterday, the Globe published an opinion piece by Peter Nowak that juxtaposes the widespread consultation on copyright reform in Canada with digital lock provisions that "wilfully ignores" public opinion.

Nowak notes how the U.S. ultimately responded to public concern in stopping SOPA, while the same appears to be happening in Europe as protests over the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement continue to grow (there are continent-wide protests planned for February 11th).

One of my posts this week focused on concerns that Industry Minister Christian Paradis has said he cannot speculate on how Bill C-11's digital lock rules will be enforced. The post identifies numerous examples of how the rules could harm creators, students, researchers, consumers, and even the visually impaired (further background information on Bill C-11 here and here). Yet these concerns are not new and have been raised for several years. Indeed, it is instructive to see how the public concern over the digital lock rules and now possible inclusion of SOPA-style amendments has mushroomed over the years.

According to documents recently obtained under the Access to Information Act, Industry Canada received thousands of letters of concern about Bill C-61, the 2008 copyright reform bill, the overwhelming majority of which focused on digital lock concerns. Just one month after the bill was tabled, the government had tracked over 27,000 letters and emails. In fact, the message on digital locks predated Bill C-61 as the public outrage over possible DMCA-style rules was already coming through loud and clear. The categorization of the letters is particularly noteworthy as digital locks were the dominant issue with few Canadians writing to express support for the government's approach.

A year later, the government held its national copyright consultation. It generated enormous public interest with over 8,000 submissions. A full summary of the responses reveals that digital locks were once again the dominant public concern.

Fast forward to the 2012 as the public outrage over SOPA effectively kills that bill, while in Europe tens of thousands take to the streets to protest ACTA. Over the past two weeks, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Latvia have all suspended plans to ratify the agreement and this morning Germany indicated even signing the agreement is on hold. Canadians have yet to take to the streets (though some rallies are now planned for cities across the country) but they are speaking out in unprecedented numbers. On Wednesday night, I moderated a panel on lawful access that included participation from NDP MP Charlie Angus. He advised that he has received over 50,000 emails of concern over Bill C-11 in the past couple of weeks, at times receiving upwards of 400 emails per minute. Liberal MP Geoff Regan also raised the 50,000 figure in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

The public opinion on Bill C-11 is clear. The majority support reform on two key conditions. First, no SOPA-style amendments such as website blocking or expanded liability should be added to Bill C-11. Second, the digital lock rules should be balanced by linking circumvention to actual copyright infringement. This approach provides legal protection for digital locks and is compliant with the WIPO Internet treaties. The compromise is broadly supported not only by individual members of the public but also by both major opposition parties, business groups, creator associations, consumer groups, and education associations.

Canadians have been speaking out on copyright reform in general and digital locks in particular for years with widely held views that reflect Canadian sensibilities about balancing protections and consumer property rights. The numbers keep growing and will continue to do so. If you have yet to speak out, write, email or tweet at the ministers and your MP providing your views on Bill C-11, now is the time to do so. If you are following the anti-ACTA rallies this weekend or tracking the C-11 debate in the House of Commons and wondering what you can do, write, email or tweet once more, asking Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore, Industry Minister Christian Paradis and your Member of Parliament: can you hear us now?

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