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Headshot of me wearing red lipstick Kara Babcock

Submission to the legislative committee on Bill C-32

Today is the last day that the House of Commons legislative committee on Bill C-32 is accepting submissions regarding possible amends to Bill C-32, our latest attempt to amend the Copyright Act. What follows is my submission to them. It is definitely not very formal and contains no real proposed amendments--many more knowledgeable people have already made such submissions, and I defer to them in that area of expertise. Nevertheless, I felt that it was important to have my voice heard.

Dear Legislative Committee on Bill C-32,

I am not a pirate.

Hard to believe, I know. The current draft of Bill C-32 seems to imply that piracy is rampant in Canada, and in particular among the demographic to which I belong, that of the 18–34-year-old university student. Curiously enough, this perspective corresponds to the one advanced by the industries who distribute music, movies, and media, the very industries who are now complaining that Internet piracy is destroying their business model. While I expect such heated, anti-consumer rhetoric from those industries, who after all are obligated by their shareholders to demonize and portray consumers as immoral beings who will only partake in legally-provided media if they have no other option, I expected better of the Canadian government. My grade 10 Civics class taught me that the government is supposed to recognize the will of the people, not the will of the special interests lobby.

But this is not about the inaccuracy of information in our education systems. This is about Bill C-32, a long-needed overhaul of our outdated Copyright Act. I commend the government for taking on this daunting task. Finding a balance between the interests of consumers and creators is not easy, but it is balance we need. So, I am pleased that you have asked for input from Canadian citizens regarding the current draft of this bill. Were you aware that your esteemed colleagues at Industry Canada consulted Canadians in the summer of 2009 on the previous proposed amendment, Bill C-61? That consultation received over 8000 submissions, 6000 of which were opposed to Bill C-61 and to digital rights management (DRM) locks in general. So, forgive me if I feel like I'm repeating myself, but I've already been through this once.

I am not a pirate. I'm not even a so-called “radical extremist.” I have no desire to eliminate copyright altogether—as a creator myself, I too enjoy the protections that copyright law provides for me. Nevertheless, unlike certain representatives of special interest groups, such as SOCAN and CRIA, I am not naive enough to think that we can blithely continue to the reality of copyright in a digital age. The Internet is a fundamentally new media when it comes to distributing information. The cost of distribution is now effectively zero. Copyright can no longer be about “who has the right to distribute,” because this going to happen anyway. There is no DRM lock that cannot be picked. There is no technological protection measure (TPM) that cannot be circumvented. And so, if you enshrine Bill C-32 as “the digital lock law” and attempt to protect Canadian creators by locking down their creations, you will fail.

You will fail, because I am not a pirate, but other people are. And this bill will not stop them. It won't even slow them down, not for a minute. Law-abiding citizens like myself will respect it, of course, and we will be stuck in the slow lane of the Internet, waiting for American television shows to come across the border, waiting for a new single to come out on iTunes, waiting for that Brand! New! Movie! with that Hot! Young! Actress! (you know the one I'm talking about) to come out on DVD. We, the law-abiding public, will be waiting, while the pirates will be busy downloading media, not paying for it, and chortling over the incompetence of the Canadian government.

Stopping piracy is a laudable goal, but let us be realistic. You cannot legislate piracy out of existence—by definition, it exists as a reaction against the legal avenues of doing business. And as long as you persist in making Bill C-32 about stopping piracy, about protecting the distributors and, to some extent, the creators, about expressing a fundamental distrust in the electorate of this nation, then you will fail. You will fail, because I am not a pirate, but under the new legislation, I might have to become one. I try my very best, every day, not to pirate media. I do not download songs; I buy them on iTunes. I do not download movies; I record them on my DVR (is that even legal?) when they come on cable television. I do not download books, though I am an avid reader, but instead I visit the library, or I purchase them new as a show of support for the author. I try so very hard, and you are not making it any easier.

I am not a pirate, nor do I want to be. So why not make it easier? Instead of focusing on all of these negative aspects of digital distribution, why not create proactive legislation that encourages the innovation of business models at a digital level? Make it easier for companies like Netflix and Pandora to open their doors in Canada. Make it easier for Canadians to download and stream music, movies, etc., legitimately. Because if you do that, then most Canadians will act in good faith. Most Canadians won't pirate but instead pay, because contrary to the opinions expressed by the special interests groups and the lobbyists for the industry, we are not all immoral.

We are not pirates. Most of us don't even have a Vitamin C deficiency. We are people, and we want our media, and we want it now. Because the Internet is all about instantaneous access to information, and maybe that has spoiled us. Nevertheless, it is reality. The new reality. And passing legislation that ignores this new reality in favour of a rose-coloured glasses version painted by the industry is silly. Copyright can no longer be about “who has the right to distribute,” because our ability to restrict that is gone forever. Instead, copyright needs to be about “who has the right to reuse.” Who has the right to remix, to modify, to make a profit off this material? These are the questions that you, through Bill C-32, have a chance to answer. I am not so convinced you have answered them to anyone's satisfaction.

Look, it's not all bad. The expanded fair dealing sounds really good. And I am pleased that Bill C-32, if not perfect, is not quite as insistent upon digital locks as its predecessor was. Whereas Bill C-61 was untenable, something I could not abide, this one is much more workable. In its present form, it is not ideal, but I definitely think that, with a few amendments, you could produce a copyright bill that strikes the right balance. Canada could be an example for the rest of the world of a modern country with modern copyright legislation that takes into account reality, that protects consumers, that protects creators, that encourages digital innovation. Or, you could follow the USA, make a “Canadian DMCA,” and watch piracy continue unabated.

It's your call, really. I have done my part—twice over, once in the summer of 2009, and now in the winter of 2011. I have worn my fair copyright T-shirt; I have encouraged my fellow citizens to speak out on this issue. But you are the ones who have to listen to us. Listen to us, and hear our concerns. We aren't asking for anything unreasonable. We aren't asking that you let us copy entire textbooks for whole classes of students, or that we get to go into a Blockbuster and rip movies from DVDs onto our computers. All we are asking for is fair, balanced copyright legislation that works for us, here and now. So think about it.