Wednesday, November 22, 2006

DMCA Exemptions

The U.S. Register of Copyrights has just issued some useful exemptions to the DMCA - as she has limited power to do.

More - much more - is here and here. AP has a good explanation of all of this.

The first exemption is quite interesting for Canada:

1. Audiovisual works included in the educational library of a college or university’s film or media studies department, when circumvention is accomplished for the purpose of making compilations of portions of those works for educational use in the classroom by media studies or film professors.

That would appear to correspond with what US law is in the non-digital context by reason of their general fair use doctrine.

This is the kind of thing that CMEC and the educators should be striving for in Canada - namely clarification or provision - but only where really necessary - of activities to be treated as examples of fair dealing in Canada. This is something achievable - especially when the USA treats is educators so much better than does Canada.

Instead, our educators have passively accepted the disaster of C-32 and are now going too far to the other extreme with their proposal for a sweeping special exception for educational use of the internet, which manages to be both unnecessary in some respects and excessively vague and overreaching in others. This has managed to alienate a lot of diverse interests and will no doubt distract from what are likely to be the real battles in the next bill, including staving off DMCA North. It could also badly distract from the more reasonable and achievable goals that the educators should be pursuing.

Another interesting one is this:

6. Sound recordings, and audiovisual works associated with those sound recordings, distributed in compact disc format and protected by technological protection measures that control access to lawfully purchased works and create or exploit security flaws or vulnerabilities that compromise the security of personal computers, when circumvention is accomplished solely for the purpose of good faith testing, investigating, or correcting such security flaws or vulnerabilities.

Did anyone say "SONY Rootkit?"

HK

Monday, November 20, 2006

PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEES AND COPYRIGHT

I am somehow assuming, though not conceding, that the Government is going to ignore, for the moment, my call for a special judicial copyright commission - though I am pleased that Michael Geist has already effectively endorsed it:

Instead of hurriedly introducing a bill that will leave everyone unhappy, the Conservatives would do far better to launch a consultation or commission (as Howard Knopf suggested this week) on copyright.

I am also somehow assuming that the Government is going to keep to Mme Oda’s word by tabling a bill very soon that will be very controversial and that the controversies will be very complex, as they usually are in copyright matters.

If there is a copyright bill, and if it gets as far as committee hearings, it is imperative that it be considered by a balanced committee that represents the mandate of both of the sponsoring departments. The Heritage Committee alone cannot be entrusted alone with this task. Even with Mme Bulte gone, the institutional structure militates against both actual and apparent balance in the hands of that Committee alone. Even before Bulte, that Committee often gave the appearance of imbalance and of being too prone to influence by the Department of Canadian Heritage and the usual lobbying suspects. Indeed, the appearance probably reflected the reality. Clifford Lincoln may have appeared more balanced than Mme Bulte, but the result too often left much to be desired.

The effective low point of copyright committee proceedings was back in the C-32 days in 1996-1997. The Bill that went into committee was a bad one - especially for the educators and broadcasters. But at least there were a few exceptions for users. When it came out of committee, it had exceptions to the exceptions that vitiated the exceptions. It was a dark day for users. And the process was not pretty.

There are two structural improvements that would go a long way to ensuring both the appearance and reality of balanced and transparent committee hearings. They are cumulative and not alternative.

1. There should be a “special joint committee” that brings together all or at least the most knowledgeable and interested members of the Heritage and Industry committees. This would mirror the joint responsibility of the two Ministers and Departments. Such a Committee would have joint chairs. There is ample precedent for this approach.

2. There must be two or even three outside expert counsel to advise the Committee. Bill C-32 had only one outside counsel. For many reasons, the resulting product was a disaster for users. Likewise with the so-called "Bulte Report" in 2004. Fortunately, the Bulte Report had no immediate legal effect, though we may well see its influence infecting the forthcoming bill. In fairness to the counsel involved, we will never know for sure what transpired behind the scenes and whether the results were more because of or in spite of their work. This is simply too much responsibility to put on one person’s shoulders, given the polarization of policy views on copyright and even of expert opinions on legal copyright matters. For example, there is a great cacophony of divergent “expert” opinion on whether downloading P2P music files to a PC hard drive is legal. Another example is whether CCH v. LSUC protects, as fair dealing, much of the activity in the educational system that currently results in passive, massive and arguably greatly excessive payments of millions a year to Access Copyright and much of the internet related activity that CMEC is lobbying about. Whatever Committee considers this bill should have access to frank discussion of the range of opinions. That can only come from hearing all sides - not only from witnesses but from its own expert counsel.

Frankly, I cannot think of any one person who is sufficiently knowledgeable, balanced, experienced, expert in both the common law and “droit d’auteur” perspectives, and who would generally be perceived to be both actually and apparently sufficiently neutral and independent to do the job of committee counsel on their own.

It is no answer for the Government or Parliament to say that it will cost too much to have two or three counsel. How does the Department of Canadian Heritage justify 20 FTEs (full time employees) more or less to work on copyright policy? I suspect that this is probably more than any other government anywhere - and certainly far more than Industry Canada. Presumably, Heritage got the FTEs because copyright is important and because, as many believe, “copyright matters.” Well, if copyright matters, then the money will somehow be found and find its way into the right budget. There’s a huge surplus out there, and it just got bigger with the recent cuts.

What is needed amongst the suggested two and preferably three special committee counsel is a real and perceived balance between common and civil law approaches, and between creators’, owners’, and users’ rights and interests. That is why there ideally should be three people. There should be one person who would have the confidence of creators, owners and collectives on the one hand and another who would have the confidence of users. We would likely need a third person to sit in the middle to facilitate communication and consensus. That person might be a sufficiently experienced, knowledgeable and neutral academic, or, if such a person could not be found, perhaps a retired judge with some good IP decisions under his or her belt. The committee counsel must have the experience and stature to be able to provide frank advice and guidance to committee members, and not simply serve as a passive research or drafting resource. Any relevant client or consulting interests regarding policy matters should be fully disclosed, not only to the committee but to the public.

It will not be easy to implement these suggestions. There are a lot of vested interests who would love to replay Bill C-32 and go back to the Heritage Committee (and not a joint committee) and see it with only one outside expert counsel, as in 1996-1997. But we cannot allow that to happen.

I have not forgotten about the official languages problem. That’s another issue and it may require a ruling from the Federal Court of Appeal and maybe even the Supreme Court of Canada. I’m working on that. However, whatever committee handles the copyright bill can temporarily solve the problem by agreeing, as many committees do, to accept written material in either official language and not demanding it in both - but unfortunately this has not been the practice of the Heritage Committee under the previous government. This is a real issue for less well financed interest groups (i.e. most user groups) who cannot afford the cost of translating essential documentation, which in many cases will exceed the cost of preparing or collecting it - even assuming there is time, which there invariably is not. Although this is a huge legal and political problem, it is not a structural one. It is simply a question of the committee following what many more expert than myself in official languages believe to be the law of Canada. As I’ve said before and will have to say again, “either” means “one or the other.” It does not mean “both”.

BOTTOM LINE

If there is to be a bill, we must have the best possible committee structure with the best and most balanced advice available.

We must take the time to get this right. Currently, there are two lobby groups dominating and pushing the agenda. The one that appears to be in the most desperate hurry is CRIA, which has little or no connection with Canadian interests. The other most vociferous demandeur is CMEC, whose approach to copyright matters as reflected in Copyright Matters! is similar to that of Access Copyright as reflected in Captain Copyright, concerning which comparison Michael essentially agrees with me. Ironically, CRIA and CanCopy (the former name for Access Copyright) were the two big winners in Bill C-32.

With all of these difficulties ahead, and the very real likelihood that the bill as expected cannot get through any committee process - fair and balanced or otherwise - before the next election, my judicial copyright commission project begins to look better and better.

Even if there is a majority government after the next election, it may well wish to take the decisive step of calling for and properly constituting a judicially led commission. The current governance model of delegating arguably far too much law making power to the Copyright Board and leaving the ongoing development to be sorted out between two competing departments is not only far from ideal. In too many ways, it isn’t even working.

Perhaps an independent and fully transparent judicial commission can come up with a better way. How should this be set up? We’ll go into that another day.

Ministers may wish to take note.

HK

Friday, November 17, 2006

CMEC & Quebec

It seems that some prominent Quebec publisher spokespersons are opposed to the CMEC special exception for educational use of the internet. There is a very interesting op-ed in Le Devoir today.

So - the CMEC proposal is getting attacked from various sides on the basis of various strongly held points of view.

The politics here could be fascinating, The Bloq Qu├ębecois has always been maximalist on copyright. But, if the Bloq decides, for whatever reason, to block a bill containing this kind of provision, that could be real trouble for such a bill.

Could this be one point on which maximalists and users' advocates agree - even if for very different reasons? Two familiar and similar clich├ęs come to mind. The first is that politics makes stange bedfellows. The other is that the enemy of one's enemy can be one's friend.

Could this be the start of a real and open debate that is long overdue? I've been advocating a judicial copyright commission for some time to provide independent and informed guidance on what's best for Canada and to hear all interested parties in the open.

HK

Monday, November 13, 2006

Time out for a commission on the future of Canadian copyright?

I have an op-ed in today's Hill Times - which is an influential weekly publication for those who work on, in or around Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

Bottom line:
Some key aspects of the copyright system and revision process are becoming dysfunctional in Canada. This country has had three excellent commissions over the last eight decades that looked at copyright law with a view to Canada's best interest. Two of these were led by judges. We are long overdue for another such commission, and we have judges who could lead it. That would be productive for the country and would be the best policy and political solution at this time for this government.

HK

Better never than late?

I thought I had traveled back in time - but it's today's story.

One of the band members of Procol Harum is claiming that he is a co-author of "Whiter Shade of Pale", a terrific and obviously very lucrative song from 1967 - notable for its Baroque and Bach inspired elements.

There's apparently a trial underway.

Now, this song was released almost 40 years. That's a long time - one might have though an excessively long time.

So - it will be very interesting to see how the Court treats the limitation period issue and how this got as far as trial in the first place. The alleged infringement was hardly hidden away.

Apparently, the Judge is musically inclined.

According to the Bloomberg story:
An electric organ has been set up in the court room for Fisher to play as part of his evidence. Justice Blackburne, who said he was "of an age to be familiar'' with the song and the Summer of Love, asked for the organ to be left on while the court room was out of use to allow him to play the sheet music submitted as evidence in the case.
HK

Friday, November 10, 2006

Constitutional Challenge to RIAA's statutory damage claims...

From the brave and bold Ray Beckerman - who fights the RIAA:

In UMG v. Lindor, Judge Trager has granted Ms. Lindor's motion to add a defense based on the unconstitutionality of the $750-per-song damages sought by plaintiffs. He rejected the RIAA's arguments that the defense was without merit, that the motion was untimely, that the amendment would prejudice the RIAA, or that Ms. Lindor was required to send a notice to the United States Department of Justice of her defense of unconstitutionality.

Judge Trager ruled:

[P]laintiffs can cite to no case foreclosing the applicability of the due process clause to the aggregation of minimum statutory damages proscribed under the Copyright Act. On the other hand, Lindor cites to case law and to law review articles suggesting that, in a proper case, a court may extend its current due process jurisprudence prohibiting grossly excessive punitive jury awards to prohibit the award of statutory damages mandated under the Copyright Act if they are grossly in excess of the actual damages suffered.....Furthermore, Lindor provides a sworn affidavit asserting that plaintiffs' actual damages are 70 cents per recording and that plaintiffs seek statutory damages under the Copyright Act that are 1,071 times the actual damages suffered. Aff. of Morlan Ty Rogers, ("Rogers Aff.", [pars.]5, 6. See also Aff. of Aram Sinnreich, ("Sinnreich Aff."), [par.] 2, 3 (attesting that popular music sound recording downloads and consumer license to use same are lawfully obtainable to the public at 99 cents per song, and of that 99 cents, roughly 70 cents per song is paid by the retailer to the record label). As FRCP Rule 12(b)(6) requires that this figure be taken as true for purposes of the motion, Lindor has alleged a factual basis supporting her affirmative defense."
This is potentially hugely important. If Ray wins on this issue (RIAA would almost certainly try to get it to the US Supreme Court if he does), it would be, without a doubt, one of the most important copyright cases in modern times...because it would take away the ad terrorem aspect of copyright law from ordinary citizens and the big copyright owners would have to do what normal litigants have to do, which is to prove actual damages. As Ray argues and the Judge notes, "plaintiffs' actual damages are 70 cents per recording and that plaintiffs seek statutory damages under the Copyright Act that are 1,071 times the actual damages suffered."

BTW, a lot of the problems in Canadian copyright law would go away if statutory damages were limited to purely commercial situations and could not be used to intimidate teachers, librarians, researchers, scholars, students and countless ordinary citizens who behave in ordinary ways.

At the time they were enacted in Canada in 1997, only Canada and the USA amongst major countries had the broad concept of statutory damages (i.e. minimum of $500 and $750 per work respectively).

Even in the USA, statutory damages are not available where the activity was done by an educational institution, library, archvive, public broadcaster or employee thereof "in any case where an infringer believed and had reasonable grounds for believing that his or her use of the copyrighted work was a fair use". The details are available here.

Now, THAT is something that educators should be fighting for here in Canada. Why should Canada treat its educational user community so much worse than the Americans do? And why should our educators so passively accept this? But it seems that CMEC and others in the educational community are, rather, obsessed with their special educational exception for use of the Internet. There are so many more useful, less harmful and more achievable goals that the educators etc. could be pursuing....and curtailment of statutory damages ought to be at the top of the list.

BTW, Michael now essentially agrees with me on how CMEC's views are not much different than those of Access Copyright in key respects. Here's his podcast of a recent talk.

HK