The Minister’s Response

Posted: August 23rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Politics | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »
This evening I received an email from the Honourable James Moore. At first glance, it appears to be a form letter in response to the letter that I sent to him and other federal government representatives well over two months ago. Perhaps his tubes were clogged. According to Mozilla Thunderbird, it also appears to be a scam.

Perhaps thunderbird is right... Bill C-32 could rightly be called a scam

And so without  further ado, here is the Minister’s response, as annotated by yours truly:

Thank you for writing to me about copyright policy. I appreciate you taking the time to share your views with me on this important issue.

No, you don’t.

My colleague, the Honourable Tony Clement, Minister of Industry, and I are pleased to inform you that our Government has introduced legislation to modernize the Copyright Act, bringing it up to date with the advances of the digital age.

Yes, three months ago. If I wasn’t aware that you had done such a thing, I probably wouldn’t have written you two different letters about said legislation.

This legislation will bring Canada in line with international standards and promote home grown innovation and creativity. It is a fair, balanced and common-sense approach, respecting both the rights of creators and the interests of consumers in a modern marketplace. We are working to secure Canada’s place in the digital economy and to promote a more prosperous and competitive country.

On this note, we disagree. Perhaps you should take some time to review the aforementioned letters instead of sending me back a useless form letter response.

The popularity of Web 2.0, social media and new technologies such as MP3 players and digital books have changed the way Canadians create and make use of copyrighted material. This bill recognizes the many new ways in which teachers, students, artists, software companies, consumers, families, copyright owners and many others use technology. It gives creators and copyright owners the tools to protect their work and grow their business models. It also provides clearer rules that will enable all Canadians to fully participate in the digital economy, now and in the future.

And with the anti-circumvention clauses that are built into the bill, it does all of this at the cost of consumer rights, and applies a Made in the USA approach to Canadian copyright law. Digital rights management schemes do not protect against wide scale piracy, and anti-circumvention laws that give them legal protection serve only to limit the ability of everyday Canadians to use their lawfully purchased media in a fair and open manner.

Detailed information about the bill is available on-line at http://www.balancedcopyright.gc.ca.

Please accept my best wishes.

Sincerely,

The Honourable James Moore, P.C., M.P.

Hopefully his best wishes are better than his best efforts to acknowledge the concerns of people who disagree with his proposed legislation.

It’s probably silly of me to expect anything more than a poorly written form letter in response to my concerns. In truth, I didn’t expect anything at all, and was surprised when Moore’s ridiculously overdue response hit my inbox tonight. After all, Moore isn’t even my Member of Parliament. But as far as I’m concerned, nothing at all would have been better than this thoughtlessly canned response.


C-32 and You: My #kwdm Presentation

Posted: July 31st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Local, Politics, Software | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

This past Thursday, I did a presentation about the dangers of Bill C-32 for the Kitchener Web Design Meetup (KWDM). It went really well, and the audience had a lot of questions and provided some great feedback. Unfortunately, since I didn’t think to record the audio from the presentation, you’ll have to make do with my slides and notes. Enjoy.

  1. Introduction

    • Good evening, my name is Jonathan Fritz. Tonight I’m going to attempt the nearly impossible: I’d like to discuss copyright law, while not putting you to sleep
  2. Not a Lawyer

    • Copyright law is something that I’ve taken an interest in during my spare time. I’d like to make it clear from the outset that I am not a lawyer.
  3. I am a Programmer

    • During the day, I’m a programmer for a small company called Skybound Software, and the co-owner of another small company called inScope Software and Solutions
    • The only reason that I mention these is because I want to make it clear that everything that I talk about this evening is 100% my opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of my employers or business partners
  4. The Crowd

    • Now that the boring legal crap is out of the way, let’s jump into some more boring legal crap
    • Ok, so I’d like to see what kind of people we have in the audience tonight. Show of hands if you’re a:
      • Web developer
      • Web or print designer
      • Artist, photographer, or musician
      • Programmer or engineer
    • You may not realize it, but copyright law affects each and every one of you every single day
  5. Copyright

    • Any time you commit something to record, be it a computer program, a photograph, a piece of music or art, it is covered in Canada by copyright.
  6. What is Copyright?

    • Copyright is a poorly named body of law that gives people who make stuff a monopoly on the distribution of that stuff for a finite period of time
    • This is an effort to ensure that they make a decent living off of their stuff, and thus have an incentive to make even more stuff.
    • As a society, we enjoy the use of the stuff that they create, and so we give up some of our personal rights and freedoms to ensure that the people that create stuff can afford to continue to do so.
  7. Poorly Named

    • I say that copyright is poorly named because it isn’t actually a right
    • It’s a privilege awarded by law, and thus by society as a whole.
    • In order for this to work, we have to all agree that the terms set out in copyright law are an appropriate balance between personal freedoms, and creators’ ability to make a decent living.
  8. Lord Macaulay

    • During an 1841 debate in the British house of commons, one Lord Macaulay did a great job outlining this dilemma:
  9. Evil Quote

    • “[Copyright] is a tax on readers for the purpose of giving a bounty to writers. The tax is an exceedingly bad one… It is good that authors should be remunerated; and the least exceptionable way of remunerating them is by a monopoly. Yet monopoly is an evil. For the sake of the good we must submit to the evil; but the evil ought not to last a day longer than is necessary for the purpose of securing the good”
  10. Inspiration

    • So here’s the thing: In order for the temporary monopoly to work out as planned, it has to end within a reasonable period of time.
    • Society has to get their rights back at some point, or else they aren’t getting a fair deal.
    • Artists’ work is informed and influenced by the work of their contemporaries.
    • Without the ability to access, borrow from, or outright steal inspiration from other pieces of art, most artists wouldn’t be able to create with any kind of regularity.
    • Pablo Picasso by way of Steve Jobs: “Good artists borrow, great artists steal”
    • Imagine taking a photo haven never seen another persons’ work with lighting and composition.
    • Writing a song without ever nicking a particularly nice chord or melody?
    • Artists don’t create in a bubble – they filter and combine all kinds of different influences into works of their own.
  11. Ghosts

    • Way back in ancient history, the monopoly awarded by copyright only lasted 14 years.
    • After that period, it was assumed that the rights’ holder had made his money (and it was always his money), and the work moved into the creative commons, meaning that anybody could use it however they saw fit.
    • Today in Canada, copyright lasts 50 years past the death of the rights’ holder.
    • Some countries have pushed that up to 70 years past death
  12. Afoul of the Law

    • This means that far less media ends up in the creative commons while it is still relevant to society, which makes it increasingly hard for artists to create without running afoul of the law
  13. Preservation of Culture, intro to C-32

    • More importantly, when reinforced by something called digital rights management, copyright laws make it very possible that our culture will not be preserved in the same way that past cultures were – but more on that later
    • Back in early June, the conservative government released Bill C-32, “The Copyright Modernization Act.”
    • It has been sponsored by the Honourable James Moore, Minister of Heritage and Official Languages, and the Honourable Tony Clement, Minister of Industry.
    • Just like the title says, this bill aims to modernize Canadian copyright law. This is a really good idea, because our current laws were haven’t been revised since 1997
  14. 1997 Websites:

    • In 1997, the top five websites on the internet were:
      • Geocities
      • Yahoo (including services called yahooligans, yahoo sports, and my yahoo)
      • Starwave corporation “where more people click”
      • Excite, Magellan, and City.net
      • PathFinder, and the family of Time/Warner and CNN sites
  15. 2010 Websites:

    • In March of 2010, the to five websites were: (15)
      • Google
      • Facebook
      • Yahoo
      • YouTube
      • MSN
  16. You are a criminal

    • As you’ve probably noticed, a few things have changed.
    • Old folk may also remember that the infamous Napster, the first file-sharing service, wasn’t invented until 1999.
    • And BitTorrent, the American entertainment industry’s nefarious arch-enemy wasn’t invented until 2001.
    • Similarly, YouTube, harbinger of all things evil, didn’t hit the tubes until 2005.
    • Simply put, our existing laws don’t cover any of these massive shifts in technology, and many of the things that Canadians do on a daily basis are actually considered illegal under current laws.
  17. The Good

    • Some important sections of proposed law that aims to fix these problems:
      • Network Services section:
        • a safe harbour clause for Internet service providers and other network operators.
        • Provides legal protection for hosting service operators whose customers may have uploaded copyrighted works to their servers
      • Copyright Infringement section:
        • sets maximum monetary awards for copyright owners who successfully charge an individual with infringement of works for personal or commercial use.
        • Given the astronomical awards granted by American courts in both the Capitol vs. Thomas (2007) and RIAA vs. Tenenbaum (2009) cases, this is an extremely important clause
      • Non-commercial User-generated Content section:
        • Makes it totally legal for you to sample copyrighted works for the purposes of creating a non-commercial mashup.
        • Now you can legally use whatever music you like as the soundtrack to your cute kitten and dancing baby videos.
      • Reproduction for Private Purposes section:
        • Allows for time and format shifting practices, thus making TiVo and iPods legal technologies in Canada, which sounds like something out of that old Rick Mercer bit, Talking to Americans.
  18. The Bad

    • Technological Protection Measures and Rights Management Information section: counteracts every positive aspect of the proposed bill
    • Bans any technology or device capable of circumventing any technological protection measure (TPM) or called digital rights management (DRM) schemes that have been placed on the digital content by its distributor
    • The bill is written in such a way that this clause takes precedence over every one of those really cool sounding amendments that I just mentioned.
    • Basically, should C-32 pass, you’ll get a whole bunch of rights. But if the distributor of some media decides to put DRM on their products, they don’t matter, and you become a criminal if you attempt to exercise any of them.
    • At this very moment, DVDs, BluRay discs, video games, Cable television, Netflix digital downloads, eBooks, computer software of all sorts, online television services, and an uncountable number of other current and future consumer media products are all protected by some form of DRM.
    • Under the proposed law, none of this digital content can be backed up, moved to a different device, transcoded to a different format, or otherwise tampered with, because to do so would require that its owner break the DRM that has been placed on it, thus making that person a criminal in the eyes of Canadian courts.
    • So why do manufacturers use DRM anyway? Well, they seem to have gotten this idea that it somehow prevents people from pirating their media. Unfortunately, this belief could not be further from the truth.
  19. Passive Systems

    • To demonstrate this problem, I’ll give you a bit of background on how DRM technologies generally work, demonstrate why they often fail, etc
    • There are basically three kinds of DRM
    • Passive Systems: The distributor of a file encrypts that file with a secret key that’s so big that it is theoretically impossible to guess.
    • She then makes a deal with the manufacturer of the device that is used to play back that file, and embeds the secret key into that device.
    • When a user attempts to play back the media file, the device is able to unlock it, and everything is cool. This is how DVDs work
    • Why they Suck: These systems tend to be very insecure, because they’re susceptible to what cryptographers call a class break.
    • Because all copies of the media file are encrypted with one of a finite number of keys, if somebody figures out a way to break through one copy of the protected media, he can usually manage to break through any piece of media that is protected with the same scheme.
    • Further, all of those keys are stored inside of some piece of software or some device in your living room that you have access to. It is only a matter of time before one is broken into, and the scheme is broken.
  20. Active Systems

    • Just like before, the distributor of a file encrypts it with a massive secret key.
    • This time, however, she buys some servers, and makes a different deal with the people who distribute playback devices.
    • Now, when a user tries to play a file, the player connects to the server and asks for permission to play the file.
    • The server checks if the user is legitimate, and if so, gives the encryption key to the device. The media is then unlocked, and you can hear your tunes.
    • This is how video game DRM from services like Steam and Electronic Arts work.
    • Because these types of protection call home for permission to start playback, they require that the user has an always-active internet connection.
    • For those with dial up or using mobile devices, this is not always possible, so the scheme has to allow a certain number of plays without speaking to the home server.
    • By definition, this means that they can be attacked, because they can be fooled into thinking that they are always in this limbo state
    • Hybrid Systems: As the name implies, these present some combination of the previous two. In general, the media is encrypted, but in order to unlock it, the playback device executes some program that is embedded in the media that performs the authorization step.
    • This program can usually be easily updated, so that if the scheme is broken, it can be fixed in the field. This is how BluRay discs are protected.
    • These are far more complex than their simple cousins, but also quite a bit more resilient to attack.
    • Unfortunately, in the past, programmers have included malicious code in these types of systems that do some nasty low-level stuff to the users’ computer, potentially leaving it open for attack.
    • This is what happened in the Sony Rootkit case of 2005, in which Sony BMG released 52 CD titles that altered the way that Microsoft Windows functions in an attempt to block users from copying their contents
  21. Consumer Suck

    • From a consumer perspective, all DRM systems suck.
    • By design, they intentionally limit what users can do with their digital media (see Defective by Design). This means that using digital media that is protected by a DRM scheme is more like licensing it than like purchasing it
    • Additionally, all types of DRM can result in property loss.
    • In the case of passive systems, this can happen if the devices used to play back the media are no longer produced.
    • In active systems, this can happen if the servers that are used for authentication are shut down. This often happens when a digital store ceases to be profitable, or if the company that operates it goes out of business
  22. Getting in the Way

    • DRM systems that are designed to prevent people from pirating media also tend to get in the way of legitimate customers who are attempting to use their media in perfectly legal and acceptable ways
  23. Smart Cows

    • Perhaps the most compelling evidence against the legislation of DRM systems is that they simply do not prevent people from pirating media.
    • In general, if you can open a legitimately purchased file, its contents can be copied out to a non-protected format, which can then be distributed.
    • If you can’t said file, but happen to be a hacker or encryption expert, you can usually figure out how to do so in short order
    • As soon as the DRM scheme is broken by one person, they can distribute it all other interested parties by way of the internet.
    • This is called the Smart Cow Problem (it takes only one cow to learn how to open a latch, and then a method can be developed that allows others to follow), and is the biggest issue facing companies relying on DRM to protect their products.
    • Combine this with the fact that every DRM system that I have ever heard of has been broken, often within weeks of release, and that the cost of creating and maintaining a DRM infrastructure can easily run into the billions, and you can see that it isn’t really a great technology to rely on to protect your digital media.
  24. Ineffective Laws

    • If anti-circumvention laws were truly effective, piracy should never have become the problem that media companies claim that it is today
    • In the United States, the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) put anti-circumvention laws like the ones proposed in Bill C-32 in place a full year before the invention of Napster and three years before the introduction of the BitTorrent file-sharing protocol
    • Although laws don’t translate directly into persecutions, they give authorities the tools to stop piracy.
    • In the United States, the MPAA and RIAA have used these tools to bring lawsuits against more than 20,000 of their own customers – and yet, piracy is still a major problem for their member organizations.
  25. Locks

    • DRM schemes are no more than the digital counterparts of real-world mechanical locks. There has never been, and will never be, a lock that cannot be broken by any determined party with time, knowledge, and resources on their side.
    • Because of these reasons, it is my opinion that the anti-circumvention clause in Bill C-32 makes its current form unacceptable to the Canadian people.
  26. What We Can Do

    • I’ve been trying to get the word out about this issue in my own way. Obviously, I’m here speaking to you tonight. I’ve also tweeted about the issue, written blog posts on my website and others, written letters to various members of parliament, and spoken personally with Peter Braid, my member of parliament up in Waterloo
  27. Contact Me

    • If you’re interested in getting involved, in telling me that I’m wrong, or just in talking more about this issue, please don’t hesitate to contact me

MP James Moore: Please Drop the Rhetoric

Posted: June 23rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Politics | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

We tried to be civil. Unfortunately, Conservative Heritage Minister James Moore has decided to take the battle over Bill C-32 to a new low:

In the video, Moore frames all opposed to his precious copyright reform bill as fear mongers and evil doers who are against any kind of copyright reform. This kind of false rhetorical framing will not result in a copyright solution that benefits all affected parties. Instead, it just muddies the waters and makes it tough to have a real discussion about the important issues that are at hand.

As many have probably guessed from the contents of my website and twitter stream, I am against the current iteration of Bill C-32. That said, I believe strongly that copyright reform is necessary in this country. Our current laws were written before the internet really took off, and need to be modernized in order to effectively deal with new technologies and situations. Most of the proposed bill is quality content, but the Section 41, Technological Protection Measures and Rights Management Information, is not.

Mr. Moore needs to step down from his high horse, cut out the rhetorical bullshit, and join in on the discussion that we are having about his proposed bill. Plugging your ears and screaming ‘na-na-na-na-boo-boo’ just doesn’t cut it when you’re an elected representative of the people.


A Letter to the Federal Government Regarding Bill C-32

Posted: June 16th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Politics | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

This week, I sent the following letter the a few key members of the Federal Government, outlining my concerns with the proposed Bill C-32. Those who have read my other posts regarding the bill may notice a great deal of similar language. As always, feel free to borrow this letter and to modify it in any way, shape, or form. Printed letters can be sent to Members of Parliament free of charge, and all Members’ contact information is available here.

To: The Right Honourable Stephen Harper
To: The Honourable Tony Clement
To: The Honourable James Moore

CC: Marc Garneau (Liberal Industry critic)
CC: Pablo Rodriguez (Liberal Heritage critic)
CC: Charlie Angus (NDP Digital Affairs Critic)
CC: Peter Braid (MP, Kitchener-Waterloo)

Dear Members of Parliament:

Last week, our Conservative government introduced Bill C-32, the Copyright Modernization Act. As its title suggests, the aim of the bill is to modernize Canadian copyright law, an admirable goal considering the incredible changes that the internet has had on our economy since our copyright laws were last reviewed in 1997. With respect to its stated goal, Bill C-32 is a reasonable proposal. It contains some much needed legislation that will indeed clarify and modernize our copyright code.

For example, the Network Services section of the Bill provides a safe harbour clause for Internet service providers and other network operators. In particular, the section provides legal protection for hosting service operators whose customers may have uploaded copyrighted works to their servers. Likewise, the Copyright Infringement section sets maximum monetary awards for copyright owners who successfully charge an individual with infringement of works for personal or commercial use. Given the astronomical awards granted by American courts in both the Capitol vs. Thomas (2007) and RIAA vs. Tenenbaum (2009) cases, this is an extremely important clause.

Unfortunately, every positive aspect of the proposed law is counteracted in the Technological Protection Measures and Rights Management Information section of the bill, wherein the proposed law explicitly bans the use, manufacture, import, distribution, sale, or rental of any technology or device capable of circumventing any technological protection measure (also called digital rights management, or DRM) schemes that have been placed on the digital content by its distributor. Should the bill become law, any use of the aforementioned technologies will constitute an immediate infringement of copyright and make the responsible party liable to all damages outlined within. Therefore, this section effectively removes all of the rights granted in earlier portions of the bill, including Non-commercial User-generated Content and Reproduction for Private Purposes, the two sections that the government is using to desperately peddle this bill as consumer-positive, when in fact it is nothing of the sort. In particular, the latter section proposes that it be made legal to create personal reproductions of copyrighted material (often referred to as time- or format-shifting, an activity that the vast number of Canadians already take part in) so long as a number of conditions are met, one of which is that “the individual, in order to make the reproduction, did not circumvent, as defined in section 41, a technological protection measure, as defined in that section, or cause one to be circumvented.”

Just like that, with a single sentence, all of the ‘rights’ that the Conservative government is waving around as they insist that their approach to copyright reform is not bought and paid for by foreign media conglomerates are struck from the record. With an anti-circumvention clause built into our copyright law, the ability to use legitimately purchased digital media in a fair and open manner (generally called fair use in the USA or fair dealing here in Canada) ceases to exist. The reason for this is that an excruciatingly small minority of the digital media that is sold today is unencumbered by some form of digital rights management. DVDs? Encrypted. Your player contains software that allows them to be read. BluRay discs? The very same. Video games? Every one. Perhaps this is the real reason that Bill C-32 was introduced at video game developer Electronic Arts’ Montreal studios. Cable television, Netflix digital downloads, eBooks, computer software of all sorts, online television services, and an uncountable number of other current and future consumer media products are all protected by some form of DRM. About the only type of digital media that you can actually buy that does not come coated in some form of technological protection measure is music, and yet millions of Canadians who purchased music from Apple’s iTunes store prior to January of 2009 still have affected tracks in their music collections. Under the proposed law, none of this digital content can be backed up, moved to a different device, transcoded to a different format, or otherwise tampered with, because to do so would require that its owner break the DRM that has been placed on it, thus making that person a criminal in the eyes of Canadian courts.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about laws of this sort is that they are known to be ineffective at stopping internet piracy. In 1996, before popular file-sharing services like Napster, KaZaa, Limewire, and BitTorrent were even invented, a group of countries that included Canada signed the World Intellectual Property Organization Treaty (WIPO), a document that required that signatory countries enact laws prohibiting the circumvention of digital rights management schemes. The United States did so in its 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), and twelve years later, the Canadian government is seeking to ratify the treaty under pressure from the United States and the European Union. Unfortunately for the government, a great deal has changed since the turn of the century, and many consumers are now aware of the problems that rights management schemes can cause them while trying to use their legitimately purchased media in seemingly normal and socially acceptable ways. In those same twelve years, the digital piracy situation faced by media companies worldwide has grown exponentially, and various media industries attribute billions of dollars per year in losses to digital piracy. If anti-circumvention laws were truly effective, piracy should never have become the problem that media companies claim that it is today; the DMCA put anti-circumvention laws in place in the United States a full year before the invention of Napster and three years before the introduction of the BitTorrent file-sharing protocol.

In truth, anti-circumvention laws styled after the United States’ DMCA serve only to reduce consumer choice while failing to prevent digital piracy in any capacity whatsoever. Lawmakers would do well to understand that DRM schemes are no more than the digital counterparts of real-world mechanical locks. There has never been, and will never be, a lock that cannot be broken by any determined party with time, knowledge, and resources on their side. Further, it is essential that lawmakers understand that a single defeat of the DRM scheme designed to protect digital media often results in the widespread availability of that media to any and all interested parties by way of the internet. Therein lies the problem with DRM as an anti-piracy measure: One does not have to be a determined hacker to access the media that a DRM scheme is intended to protect; one simply requires access to the internet, and knowledge of a website that distributes media that has been helpfully unlocked by other, more capable parties. The global nature of the internet ensures that the parties most interested in defeating digital rights management schemes need not operate in countries unfriendly to their cause. For these reasons, a government mandate that protects the sanctity of digital locks will not have the desired effect of preventing widespread domestic piracy. Instead, such a ruling will serve only to impact the ability of consumers to utilize their rightfully purchased digital media in a fair and open manner.

Since anti-circumvention legislation has not reduced piracy rates in countries where it has been introduced, and since the DRM schemes that it aims to sanctify do little to stop widespread piracy, but do make common criminals out of legitimate customers on a wide scale, it is a simple matter to conclude that this type of legislation is not, and never will be, in the best interests of the consumer. Gentlemen, I urge you all to reconsider the laws proposed in Bill C-32. As a young entrepreneur and a professional employed in our strong technology sector, I cannot help but be concerned about the potentially stifling effects of the proposed legislation on our economy, and on our ability to innovate and to create the technologies of the future.

Thank you for your time,

Jonathan Fritz, BSc.


The Problem with Bill C-32

Posted: June 6th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Politics | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

This past week, the Honourable James Moore, Conservative Minister of Heritage & Official Languages and the Honourable Tony Clement, Conservative Minister of Industry introduced Bill C-32, “Copyright Modernization Act at the Electronic Arts studios in Montreal, Quebec. As its title suggests, the aim of the bill is to modernize copyright law in Canada, an admirable goal considering that our copyright laws haven’t been reviewed since 1997. In Internet time, that’s nearly an eternity, and a lot has changed since then. With respect to its stated goal, Bill C-32 is a reasonably good proposal of law. It contains some much needed legislation that will indeed clarify and modernize our copyright code.

For example, the Network Services section provides a safe harbour clause for Internet service providers and other network operators. In particular, the section provides legal protection for hosting service operators whose customers may have uploaded copyrighted works to their servers. Likewise, the Copyright Infringement section sets maximum monetary awards for copyright owners who successfully charge an individual with infringement of works for personal or commercial use. Given the astronomical awards granted by American courts in both the Capitol vs. Thomas and RIAA vs. Tenenbaum cases, this is an extremely important clause.

Unfortunately, these positive aspects of the proposed law are counteracted in the Technological Protection Measures and Rights Management Information section of the bill. In this section, the proposed law explicitly bans the use, manufacture, import, distribution, sale, or rental of any technology or device capable of circumventing any technological protection measures (also called digital rights management, or DRM) schemes that have been placed on the digital content by its distributor. Under the proposed law, any use of the aforementioned technologies constitutes an immediate infringement of copyright, and makes the responsible party liable to all damages outlined therein. The problem with this section is that it effectively removes all of the rights granted in earlier sections of the bill, including Non-commercial User-generated Content and Reproduction for Private Purposes, the two sections that the government is using to desperately peddle this bill as consumer-positive, when in fact it is nothing of the sort. In particular, the latter section proposes that it be made legal to create personal reproductions of copyrighted material so long as a number of conditions are met, one of which is that “the individual, in order to make the reproduction, did not circumvent, as defined in section 41, a technological protection measure, as defined in that section, or cause one to be circumvented.”

And just like that, with a single sentence, all of the ‘rights’ that the government is waving around as they insist that their approach to copyright reform is not bought and paid for by foreign media conglomerates are struck from the record. You see, with an anti-circumvention clause built into our copyright law, the ability to use legitimately purchased digital media in a fair and open manner (generally called fair use in the USA or fair dealing here in Canada) ceases to exist. The reason for this is because an excruciatingly small minority of the digital media that is for sale today is unencumbered by some form of digital rights management. DVDs? Encrypted. Your player contains software that allows them to be read. BluRay discs? Same deal. Video Games? Absolutely. Why do you think the government introduced the law at Electronic Arts’ Montreal studios? Cable television, Netflix digital downloads, eBooks, computer software of all sorts, online television from Hulu and other major providers, and an uncountable number of other consumer media products are all protected by some form of DRM. About the only type of digital media that you can actually buy that doesn’t come coated in some form of protection measure is music, but millions of people who purchased music from the iTunes store prior to January of 2009 still have affected tracks in their music collections. Under the proposed law, none of this digital content can be backed up, moved to a different device, transcoded to a different format, or otherwise tampered with, because to do so would require that its owner break the DRM that has been placed on it, thus making that person a criminal in the eyes of Canadian courts.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about laws of this sort is that they are known to be ineffective at stopping internet piracy. Way back in 1996, before Napster, KaZaa, Limewire, or BitTorrent were invented, a group of countries got together and signed the World Intellectual Property Organization Treaty, a document that required that signatory countries enact laws prohibiting the circumvention of digital rights management schemes. The United States did so in its 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and 12 years later, the Canadian government is seeking to ratify the treaty under pressure from the United States and the European Union by following suit. Unfortunately for the government, a lot has happened since the turn of the century, and many consumers are now aware of the problems that rights management schemes can cause them while trying to use their legitimately purchased media in seemingly acceptable ways. In those same 12 years, the piracy situation has yet to stabalize, and the various media industries still attribute billions of dollars per year in losses to digital piracy. So what’s going on? If anti-circumvention laws were truly effective, wouldn’t the rate of piracy drop in countries where they are introduced?

Allow me to explain with a quote from one of my previous posts, An Open Letter to the Conservative Government of Canada:

Anti-circumvention laws styled after those of the United States’ 1998 Digital Millenium Copyright Act serve only to reduce consumer choice while failing to prevent digital piracy in any capacity whatsoever. Lawmakers would do well to understand that digital rights management (DRM) schemes are no more than the digital counterparts of real-world mechanical locks. There has never been, and will never be, a lock that cannot be broken by any determined party with time, knowledge, and resources on their side. In the digital case, a single defeat of the DRM system designed to protect digital media often results in the widespread availability of that media to any and all interested parties by way of the internet. Therein lies the biggest problem with DRM schemes: One does not have to be a determined hacker to access the media that a DRM scheme is intended to protect; one simply requires access to the internet, and knowledge of a website that distributes media that has been helpfully unlocked by other, more capable parties. The global nature of the internet ensures that the parties most interested in defeating digital rights management schemes need not operate in countries unfriendly to their cause. As such, a government mandate that protects the sanctity of digital locks will not have the desired effect of preventing widespread domestic piracy. Instead, such a ruling will serve only to impact the ability of consumers to utilize their rightfully purchased digital media in a fair and open manner.

Since anti-circumvention legislation has not reduced piracy rates in countries where it has been introduced, and since the digital rights management schemes that it aims to sanctify often do little to stop widespread piracy, but do inconvenience legitimate customers on a wide scale, it is a simple matter to conclude that this type of legislation is not, and never will be, in the best interests of the consumer, who also happens to be the voter responsible for electing the officers of government that attempt to introduce it into law. So why are your elected representatives being complacent in protecting your interests? Perhaps you should ask them about it.

Those readers with an interest in copyright law, internet piracy, and the effects of anti-circumvention legislation are encouraged to read Ripped by Greg Kot and Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars by William Patry, as well as to check out Professor Michael Geist’s excellent Blog.


An Open Letter to the Conservative Government of Canada

Posted: May 8th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Politics | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

To: The Right Honourable Stephen Harper
To: The Honourable Tony Clement
To: The Honourable James Moore

CC: Marc Garneau (Liberal Industry critic)
CC: Pablo Rodriguez (Liberal Heritage critic)
CC: Charlie Angus (NDP Digital Affairs Critic)
CC: Peter Braid (MP, Kitcener-Waterloo)

Dear Members of Parliament:

It is with much consternation that I view the continued efforts of the federal Conservative government of Canada to ‘reform’ Canadian copyright law. I fear that the government has lost sight of the original purpose of copyright law, and has forgotten their sworn duty to protect the interests of their constituents over those of foreign media conglomerates.  This week brought the news that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has ordered the Honourable James Moore, Conservative Minister of Heritage & Official Languages, to proceed in drafting a copyright reform bill that is likely to include strong anti-circumvention clauses and an inflexible approach to fair dealing exceptions. As a Canadian citizen and an entrepreneur in our strong technology sector, I must make clear my view that these types of laws fail to benefit the end users of technology, and Canadian industry as a whole.

In particular, anti-circumvention laws styled after those of the United States’ 1998 Digital Millenium Copyright Act serve only to reduce consumer choice while failing to prevent digital piracy in any capacity whatsoever. Lawmakers would do well to understand that digital rights management (DRM) schemes are no more than the digital counterparts of real-world mechanical locks. There has never been, and will never be, a lock that cannot be broken by any determined party with time, knowledge, and resources on their side. In the digital case, a single defeat of the DRM system designed to protect digital media often results in the widespread availability of that media to any and all interested parties by way of the internet. Therein lies the biggest problem with DRM schemes: One does not have to be a determined hacker to access the media that a DRM scheme is intended to protect; one simply requires access to the internet, and knowledge of a website that distributes media that has been helpfully unlocked by other, more capable parties.

The global nature of the internet ensures that the parties most interested in defeating digital rights management schemes need not operate in countries unfriendly to their cause. As such, a government mandate that protects the sanctity of digital locks will not have the desired effect of preventing widespread domestic piracy. Instead, such a ruling will serve only to impact the ability of consumers to utilize their rightfully purchased digital media in a fair and open manner. Taken to their fullest extent, anti-circumvention laws prevent consumers from watching legitimately purchased films on their computers and from listening to personally owned music on their mobile devices. They encourage a marketplace that limits consumer choice and promotes vendor lock-in; a market that licenses media to consumers instead of selling it. This situation often results in the loss of personal property when DRM servers that consumers rely on to enjoy their media are inevitably shut down for economical reasons.

Last summer, the federal Conservative government conducted public copyright consultations under the auspices of creating what they advertised as a “made in Canada approach to copyright reform.” Unfortunately, it seems as though the thousands of voices that participated in those deliberations were largely ignored by this government, contrary to the very concept of a representative democracy. While we can all agree that copyright reform is necessary, it is important that the reforms that are ultimately enacted accurately represent the interests of the majority of Canadians, whose lives are impacted by their access to media technology on a daily basis. We must remember that the primary purpose of copyright law is provide a monetary incentive for artists to contribute to our society, and not to enrich foreign media conglomerates.

Thank you for your time,

Jonathan Fritz,

A concerned citizen

This open letter was emailed and posted to all listed Members of Parliament. If you are interested in joining in on the discussion and want your voice to be heard by your representatives, feel free to borrow my letter and to modify it as you wish. Alternatively, head over to the website of the Canadian Coalition for Electronic Rights and use their automated form to accomplish the same task.


When Copyright Goes Bad

Posted: April 20th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Politics | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

Just wanted to share this fantastic short documentary about the recent shifts in copyright law from Ben Cato Clough and Luke Upchurch.

The film features Fred Von Lohmann, Michael Geist, and others, and discusses the problem of physical-age copyright law in our digital age.


A ‘Made in Canada Solution’ My Ass

Posted: April 19th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Politics | Tags: , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Today, Michael Geist, law professor and Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law from the University of Ottawa, tweeted a link to some leaked documents allegedly pertaining to trade negotiations between Canada and the European Union. While there are quite a few documents available, I took a moment to flip through the one focused on intellectual property negotiations, and found some rather shocking proposals that would both lengthen existing copyright terms and dismantle what few fair-use laws currently exist in Canada.

It’s no secret that our federal copyright law is a mess. While US copyright law tends to be more draconian in nature (see the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act, and the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act), Canadian copyright law consists of a mass of overlapping statutes and supreme court decisions that combine to make it inefficient, costly to consumers, and extremely hard to navigate. Check out this episode of Jesse Brown’s Search Engine Podcast for a great interview with Howard Knopf, an intellectual property lawyer from Ottawa who believes that Canada already has excessive IP laws, and the Copyright Board of Canada’s ridiculously long list of Canadian copyright organizations for more information.

This past summer, our federal conservative government held public copyright consultations on the possibility of Canadian copyright reform. At the time, I both participated in the consultation process, and wrote a lengthy post detailing my answers to the questions posed by the government. Based on this leak, and previous leaks of alleged ACTA materials, I guess that secretive international treaties were what our government actually had in mind when they said that they would take a ‘made in Canada’ approach to the reform process.

So without further ado (and with full recognition that I am not a lawyer, and could be way off the mark with my comments), I’ll run through a couple of the scarier things that I found in the leaked document:

  1. A possible extension of existing copyright terms from 50 years to 70 past death:

    The rights of an author of a literary or artistic work within the meaning of Article 2 of the Berne Convention shall run for the life of the author [EC: and for 70 years after his death, irrespective of the date when the work is lawfully made available to the public.] [Canada: and the remainder of the calendar year in which the author dies, and a period of at least 50 years following the end of that calendar year.]

  2. Term extensions for orphaned works:

    [EC: In the case of anonymous or pseudonymous works, the term of protection shall run for 70 years after the work is lawfully made available to the public.] [Canada: Where the identity of the author of a work is unknown, copyright in the work shall subsist for whichever of the following terms ends earlier:
    (a) a term consisting of the remainder of the calendar year of the first publication of the work and a period of fifty years following the end of that calendar year, and
    (b) a term consisting of the remainder of the calendar year of the making of the work and a period of seventy-five years following the end of that calendar year.]

  3. 25-year term protection for the first person who uses a copyrighted work after its initial expiry date:

    [EC: The Parties shall ensure that any person who, after the expiry of copyright protection, for the first time lawfully publishes or lawfully communicates to the public a previously unpublished work, shall benefit from a protection equivalent to the economic rights of the author. The term of protection of such rights shall be 25 years from the time when the work was first lawfully published or lawfully communicated to the public.

  4. Non-negotiable royalties to the rights holder of a copyrighted work any time that it is resold (this could mean a loss of the ability to sell used books/CDs at a garage sale):

    The Parties shall provide, for the benefit of the author of an original work of art, a resale right, to be defined as an inalienable right, which cannot be waived, even in advance, to receive a royalty based on the sale price obtained for any resale of the work, subsequent to the first transfer of the work by the author.

  5. Full-on DMCA-style prohibition of any device that can be used to circumvent Digital Rights Management (DRM) schemes:

    The Parties shall provide adequate legal protection against the circumvention of any effective technological measures, which the person concerned carries out in the knowledge, or with reasonable grounds to know, that he or she is pursuing that objective. The Parties shall provide adequate legal protection against the manufacture, import, distribution, sale, rental, advertisement for sale or rental, or possession for commercial purposes of devices, products or components or the provision of services which:
    (a) are promoted, advertised or marketed for the purpose of circumvention of, or
    (b) have only a limited commercially significant purpose or use other than to circumvent, or
    (c) are primarily designed, produced, adapted or performed for the purpose of enabling or facilitation the circumvention of, any effective technological measures.
    For the purposes of this Agreement, the expression ‘technological measures’ means any technology, device or component that, in the normal course of its operation, is designed to prevent or restrict acts, in respect of works or other subject-matter, which are not authorised by the right holder of any copyright or any right related to copyright as provided for by law. Technological measures shall be deemed ‘effective’ where the use of a protected work or other subject matter is controlled by the right holders through application of an access control or protection process, such as encryption, scrambling or other transformation of the work or other subject-matter or a copy control mechanism, which achieves the protection objective.

  6. As well legal ramifications for any person who uses a device that can circumvent DRM schemes:

    The Parties shall provide adequate legal protection against any person knowingly performing without authority any of the following acts:
    (a) the removal or alteration of any electronic rights-management information;
    (b) the distribution, importation for distribution, broadcasting, communication or making available to the public of works or other subject-matter protected under this Agreement from which electronic rights-management information has been removed or altered without authority, if such person knows, or has reasonable grounds to know, that by so doing he is inducing, enabling, facilitating or concealing an infringement of any copyright or any rights related to copyright as provided by law.

  7. Finally, a potentially positive section that seems to limit the ability of ISPs to use deep-packet inspection and selective filtering on their customers’ internet connections:

    Where an information society service is provided that consists of the transmission in a communication network of information provided by a recipient of the service, or the provision of access to a communication network, Parties shall ensure that the service provider is not liable for the information transmitted, on condition that the provider:
    (a) does not initiate the transmission;
    (b) does not select the receiver of the transmission; and
    (c) does not select or modify the information contained in the transmission.

Please take a moment to read the document for yourself, and consider contacting your member of parliament to discuss the proposed treaty with him/her. It’s only by being vigilant that we, the citizenry, can protect our rights against laws such as this that are quite obviously slanted in the favour of corporate rights holders.


Post-Midterms Class Roundup

Posted: November 1st, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Education, Software | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

So midterms are finished, and life goes on. As much as I’d love this post to be tech-oriented, showcasing some brilliant new software that I’ve written in my spare time, the truth is, I haven’t had enough spare time lately in which to write any software of value.

The small exception to that claim is this app, a neat little VB and XML oriented program that allows you to read an iTunes playlist file (as exported to XML), and auto-copy all of the songs in that playlist to any folder you wish, preserving the artist/album/song file structure.

I wrote the program to fill my brand new blackberry with a selection of excellent songs, because the built in Roxio media manager is great for pictures, but slow as sin when it comes to larger media files. After writing it, I realized that it could also be a useful piracy tool; but then again, a hammer could be a positively fantastic homicide tool in the wrong hands too. Of all the libraries I’ve ever written, my .NET XML parser has spawned off more crappy little programs, making it possibly the most useful bit of code I’ve created.

Other than that, my coding has lately been limited to some cool graphics stuff in with OpenGL and C++. So far we’ve constructed a classic spinning cube implementation, complete with a custom view pipeline that implements transformations, dynamic shading, and back face culling in software. The next topic that we’re studying is texturing, and eventually, ray tracing and shaders.

While none of my assignments for this course have been interesting enough to warrant posting, I’ll definetly up my final project for the course, which at this point, is probably going to be a 3D terrain generator, similar to that of Sim City 4 fame.


The Canadian DMCA and You

Posted: September 27th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Politics | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

With the October 14th Canadian federal election quickly approaching, I think it’s a good time to bring forth an important issue that isn’t getting enough spotlight in our media.

Anybody who is tech-oriented or reads the news should be familiar with the American DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act). Put into law in October of 1998, the law works to strengthen copyright protection in the USA, and includes an anti-circumvention clause that makes it illegal to break any digital security system placed on your files. This law applies to any kind of Digital Rights Management (DRM) system placed on your otherwise legitimately purchased digital property.

Under the DMCA, it is illegal to convert Apple iTunes downloads to the more open Mp3 format, rip DVD movies to your computer to watch them on a network, a portable device, or otherwise back them up, rip certain CD’s (the ones that have copy protection warnings all over them) so that you can listen to them on your iPod, and a whole host of other should-be legitimate activities.

In the past, copyright law was only broken if you took somebody else’s work and illegally distributed it to others via the internet, a CD-R, or USB thumbdrive. With the DMCA in place however, it is illegal to do all sorts previously legal activities that fall under the realm of fair use of a product legitimately purchased.

Which brings me to my point – previous to taking their summer recess, Stephen Harper’s minority conservative government was once again attempting to champion bill C-61 through the House of Commons in an effort to put a similar law into effect here in Canada. Most experts in the United States argue that their DMCA has actually hindered the tech sector there, while security experts cringe at the idea of being legally bound to not test the security of various systems, including electronic election equipment (on which maker Diebold has handily installed DRM so that it is illegal to check over their source code).

As a tech-oriented citizen entrepreneur in Canada, I feel that this law needs to be struck down immediately. Details regarding the law can be found here, while information about how to help defeat the proposal can be found at boingboing, copyrightforcanadians, this youtube video from Canadian law proffessor Michael Geist, and this segment of CBC’s the Hour, also featuring Michael Geist.

For those seeking more information regarding DRM, the DMCA, and the effect both have had on tech and liberty in the USA, check out this essay (*.pdf) that I wrote last term for an Ethics course I took at Laurier. It’s about 16 pages, but a solid read, and full of links to other important resources.

Contact your local MP, and get their opinion on the law as part of your voting research.

Cheers,

Jon