Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Don't Touch My Digital Junk: TPMs & Bill C-32 - Geist v. Ficsor

The great debate between Michael Geist and Mihály Ficsor over Bill C-32'a treatment of TPM’s and when and how they can be legally circumvented continues and, indeed, escalates.

The big issues include:
  • Must C-32 address BOTH "access" and "copy" controls?
  • Can there be a general exception for circumventing for non-infringing purposes, e.g. fair dealing?
  • Should devices, software, or services that have substantial legitimate purposes be caught in the anti-circumvention net?
Prof. David Vaver points to links on both sides and suggests, quite correctly, that these materials are “mandatory reading” for all concerned. It’s too bad that David himself has not expressed his view on this debate, or other aspects of the Bill C-32 as far as I know. Hopefully, his decade at Oxford has not diminished his interest in Canadian copyright law and he will share his valuable insights before it too late for the public debate.

I do have some brief comments.

Mihály is a good friend and we have invited each other to important copyright conferences back in the 1990's. He is a major figure in the world of international copyright law and played a very significant role while at WIPO in the development of the 1996 WIPO treaties. I respect his decision since leaving WIPO to align himself with the IIPA and the key lawyers and law firms behind it. See here, here and here He is currently associated with Greenberg, Traurig, a powerful Washington law firm and the IP group led by Eric Smith, who is one of the key figures behind the IIPA.

The IIPA is the powerful Washington lobbying organization that is highly influential in the content of the notorious annual USTR “Special 301" report - which provides predictable and perennial negative commentary about Canada that our own Government says "lacks reliable and objective analysis". It includes the RIAA, MPAA, NMPA, BSA and ESA. But that’s another story and I have no reason to think that Mihály is involved in this aspect of IIPA’s work. He is not currently listed as one of the IIPA’s personnel.

To his credit, Mihály has been consistent on the issue of the need to provide both access and copy control protection for TPMs since his 2002 book. Indeed, there are aspects of his 2002 book I quite like but which may not suit the views the Canadian appendages of some of the IIPA’s major client/members, such as his vigorous insistence that remuneration from private copying must be dealt with on a national treatment basis both under the WCT and WPPT - i.e. both for authors and sound recording producers/performers. If Mihály is right on this point - and many in the Canadian government would agree with him - this is a real deal breaker for any form of “iPod tax”, since the "tax" would be almost exactly doubled and almost all of the hundreds of millions of dollars that would be collected - after paying for CPCC managers, consultants and lawyers, etc. - would leave Canada with almost nothing coming back in return. This would clearly not be good public policy. It would also be dreadful politics - a huge "tax on technology" with almost all of the proceeds leaving Canada. Subsidies, if absolutely need, would be far more efficient and far cheaper and could be kept entirely in Canada - though lawyers, lobbyists and collective managers wouldn't be happy for obvious reasons.

Michael Geist is also a good friend. He needs no introduction to Canadian or most foreign readers.

Anyway, back to TPMs.

Here is what the WIPO Copyright Treaty (“WCT”) says on TPMs, with similar language in the WPPT (producers and phonograms treaty):
Obligations concerning Technological Measures
Contracting Parties shall provide adequate legal protection and effective legal remedies against the circumvention of effective technological measures that are used by authors in connection with the exercise of their rights under this Treaty or the Berne Convention and that restrict acts, in respect of their works, which are not authorized by the authors concerned or permitted by law.
(Emphasis added)

As for his position on TPM’s, Mihály goes on at great length about the meaning of “adequate” and “effective” and “adequate and effective”. These are words - especially the word “effective” - that have little if any intrinsic or precise meaning in international IP law. In particular, the word "effective" refers to “procedure” (i.e. "remedies") - not substance. Canada will provide more than “adequate legal protection” and very “effective legal remedies” if we take an approach of permitting exceptions for non-infringing activity and provide only for copy control and not Orwellian and para-copyright “access control”. There is nothing in the treaties that requires protection of devices that are capable of substantial non-infringing legitimate uses.
The reason I say this is that I was asked to research the meaning of “adequate” and “effective” and “adequate and effective” in the context of the US Grokster case in the US Supreme Court. I co-authored the attached brief for a major amicus curiae, which showed, inter alia, that the word “effective” is used in TRIPs and otherwise to refer simply to procedural and not substantive matters.

Treaties should normally stand on their own without minute analysis and recourse to “preparatory work”, just as national laws, at the least in the case of Canada, will not normally require recourse to domestic legislative history, much less to treaties, in order to be interpreted by national courts. If the Canadian law is clear, it will be assumed to be consistent with the treaty that required its implementation, and that treaty will normally be interpreted, if the court even looks at it, at face value.

It's true that one can have recourse to the preparatory work that goes into treaties under certain circumstances set out in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties:

Article 32

Supplementary means of interpretation

Recourse may be had to supplementary means of interpretation, including the preparatory work of the treaty and the circumstances of its conclusion, in order to confirm the meaning resulting from the application of article 31, or to determine the meaning when the interpretation according to article 31:

(a) leaves the meaning ambiguous or obscure; or

(b) leads to a result which is manifestly absurd or unreasonable.

It's not clear that such recourse is needed in this instance, but if it were, it would probably help Michael more than Mihály. For example, the early versions of the treaty language were replete with references to "devices" of which "the primary purpose or primary effect of which is to circumvent any process, treatment, mechanism or system that prevents or inhibits any of the acts covered by the rights under this Treaty." See here. Earlier versions of Article 13 of the WCT, which eventually became Article 11, contain language prohibiting devices that clearly isn't in the final text, incdicating the rejection of such an approach. Both Michael and Mihály rely heavily on the Vienna Convention to make their cases. Can they both be right?

What seems clear is that, for reasons that are not apparent, the Government is using language in Bill C-32 similar to that which was specifically rejected in the WIPO treaty making process - i.e. re "devices".

While David Vaver may be right that the wording of the treaties is hardly “pellucid” on this question, it is sufficiently lucid to have at least a clear base line meaning. The whole point is that Canada need not implement beyond that base line, unless it so chooses. And it would seem axiomatic that such meaning must be consistent with the normal canons of what constitutes “copyright law”. Otherwise, Canada and presumably most other countries had no mandate to sign such the WIPO treaties in the first place. Moreover, countries such as Canada with constitutions that specifically refer to “copyright”, may face constitutional challenges if they attempt to implement provisions that go beyond any reasonable conception of “copyright” law. For example, it’s one thing to prevent “copying” of a locked DVD in order to deter commercial piracy. It’s quite another thing to prevent “access” to viewing such a DVD simply because it was sold in India, sent here as a gift, but not region coded for Canada. Indeed, Heather Mallick makes this very point here in an excellent Toronto Star article.

Would we tolerate a law that prevents even the very “reading” of foreign printed books? Or the very “viewing” of foreign films? Would anyone say that this is law in relation to copyright? No - because it has nothing to do with “copying” and everything to do with restraint of trade, monopolization and perhaps even being an "an instrument of trade control not contemplated by the Copyright Act" in the words of Justice Fish of Canada’s Supreme Court in the Kraft decision.

I am not impressed by pointing to other countries such as Australia that have implemented these treaties in a manner more less dictated by the U.S.A. The Australian decision to toss out an earlier version of WIPO implementation that featured only "copy control" and to embrace a version dictated by American trade negotiators was controversial and the government of the day paid the ultimate price for this and other examples of following American direction contrary to Australian interests. There are many excellent aspects of US copyright law - but the TPM measures of the DMCA are not among them. For reasons that are unclear, Canada’s proposals as they now stand are even more restrictive and harmful to consumers and even to creators themselves. Again, see Heather Mallick, who is hardly alone in being both. At any rate, Michael Geist's analysis points to several countries, including Japan, Switzerland, and several EU members that have minds of their own and availed themselves of available flexibilities under the 1996 WIPO treaties.

All in all, an approach such as that advocated in the Liberal Government's Bill C-60 would seem to be not only wise but perfectly safe in terms of international trade law, not that there is any foreseeable risk or indeed any mechanism for a trade-challenge on this issue as international law currently stands. While I am in no way advocating the adoption of a Canadian law in contravention of the WIPO treaties, it should be noted that they curiously contain no dispute resolution mechanism. This is ironic, since the US efforts to undermine IP multilateralism make any revision of the WTO TRIPs agreement, which could conceivably bring the 1996 WIPO treaties into a dispute resolution arena, very unlikely in the foreseeable future. It is further ironic because the USA has deliberately shirked its obligations respecting moral rights under Berne Convention by managing to get them exempted from dispute resolution under TRIPs.

I am assuming that Prof. Geist’s interest in this issue is purely academic and independent and not funded by any commercial interest. His recent book chapter did get funding from the usual academic sources, which have no commercial strings attached.

Mihály’s "interest in the Canadian experience" and his recent lengthy writings about it, which are frequently relied upon by Canadian lobbyist Barry Sookman and his junior associate, Mr. James Gannon, are also said by Mr. Gannon to be "purely academic".



  1. Actually Howard, I disagree with both of them and you, however as everyone now knows, I'm a very disagreeable person. I wrote about the situation here:
    and here:
    and about a dozen other times. Quite frankly the plain language of the treaty shows that Geist, Ficsor, Sookman, and Gammon are all wrong.

    Now Ficsor may be right about what was intended, but this is not what the treaty says. And of course there is the question of whether it is an value to the citizens of Canada in being in compliance with the treaty:

    Of course I am not a lawyer, I'm a political commentator, recording engineer, and general gadfly, so my take on things is different, and I suspect far closer to views of the average Canadian.



    I currently have to pack up my suitcase since I have to leave within two hours for the airport on my travel to Rio de Janeiro.

    As regards TPM protection, I have discussed the reasons for my position again in my “lengthy” paper; I maintain it and I do not repeat it here. The reason for which I am writing you is not that, but rather your ad hominem argument implying that I am probably biased since I “currently” work for a Washington law firm and through it I serve IIPA.

    I have to say three things about this. First, I simply this is not the case. Currently I am not aligned with any law firm, and I am not aligned with IIPA.

    Secondly, yes, was ready to serve time and again as a consultant for a while for IIPA as for many other international and non-governmental organizations, for governments, for academic bodies and even for private persons, if they have asked me to express my opinion on an issue about the WIPO Internet Treaties. I stress again, my opinion, which is never influenced by who asks for it.

    Thirdly, the colleagues at that law are excellent lawyers and good colleagues, and as regards the different groups of US copyright owners, you must recognize that they, with the huge creative communities behind them, have contributed – and continue contributing – greatly to world culture. They are owners of copyright. However, those for a well-balanced copyright system their legitimate interests should also be taken into account.
    They have been among those to whom I expressed my opinion, as there have also been authors, performers, consumer groups, etc., including those who are fighting now for adequate rules facilitating access to special-format works by the visually impaired.

    You also refer to Barry Sookman and his colleague – if I understand correctly – James Gannon. No, my interest in C-32 is not derived from them, neither from that I would represent the interest of the Canadian government. I have not read anything from James Gannon and I have not met him. On the other hand, I have read excellent papers published by Barry Sookman, and I have found that he is an excellent lawyer with whose views I happen to agree. That is because I have contacted him and made comments on certain issues. I recommend that you should not just shrug off his arguments by simply referring him as a lobbyist. The value and validity of arguments does not depend on who expresses them; they stand and should be considered as such. Ad hominem arguments are easy but without due value.

    Otherwise, if it is important with whom and with what I am “currently aligned:” (i) from today until next Wednesday, I will be currently aligned with AISGE, the Spanish society of audiovisual performers which have invited me to speak in Rio at a Latin American event (for which now I have to leave within an hour); (ii) next Friday, I will be currently aligned with the Hungarian Copyright Council since, as its President, I will chair a meeting of its Board; (iii) the week after, I will be currently aligned with WIPO since I will speak at a seminar on collective management in Hanoi; (iv) the week after, I will be currently aligned with a EU program in Tirana to update the Albanian copyright system; (v) the week after, I will be currently aligned with my family under the Christmas tree; and (vi) the last week of the year, I will be currently aligned with my grand-children on ski vacation in Austria.

    With the old friendship and in the hope of seeing you again at Fordham next year.


  3. Wayne Borean (AKA: Mad Hatter),

    While I agree with you that Ficsor, Sookman and Gammon are incorrect in their interpretations, I don't agree that Geist is. In his article and blogs he has been making the case that there is flexability in interpretation of the treaty, not that any specific interpretation is "the one true interpretation".

    He and others (including myself) have suggested that the language used in Bill C-60 was more consistent with the language of the treaty, and also that it seemed clear that it adhered to any obligations of anyone wishing to ratify the treaties.

    That is not to say that I believe that the C-60 language is the best option. In my FAQ I said I felt the best option was to offer legal protection for TPMs in the specific laws regulating the specific relationship the TPM was protecting. If a contractual relationship (DVD's, etc) then the protection would be in contract law. If an eCommerce site (access controls limiting access to paying customers, paywalls, etc) then the protection would be in eCommerce law. If locks on hardware/software, then traditional property/rental/etc law should apply.

    This in my mind this would give "adequate legal protection and effective legal remedies" for the legitimate business models which copyright holders wish to explore, without at the same time circumventing the traditional contours of copyright, contract, eCommerce, competition, trade and property law (as contemplated in C-32).

  4. Dear Mihály:

    Thank you very much for your comment. I shall post a new entry in response.

    Best regards,


  5. Thirdly, the colleagues at that law are excellent lawyers and good colleagues, and as regards the different groups of US copyright owners, you must recognize that they, with the huge creative communities behind them, have contributed – and continue contributing – greatly to world culture. They are owners of copyright.


    Here is where I disagree violently with you. United States culture is not worth exporting. At least the culture as espoused by the RIAA/MPAA member companies is usually horridly written and produced. That is why my personal DVD library is heavily biased towards British and Canadian producers, and my music library is heavily biased towards smaller, non-label artists.

    Another point that I would like to make is that copyright ownership should be non-transferable. Copyright should remain the property of the artist, and his or her heirs. If anyone wants to use it, they would then license it's use for a time limited period, with no automatic renewals allowed. The point of copyright after all is to encourage artists by rewarding them, not encouraging distributors.

    And finally - thanks for listing your affiliations. I have called many times for the commentators to either declare their allegiances, or to refrain from commenting, which they have not done. One of them was however kind enough to point me at the rules for lawyers in Canada, which prevent a lawyer from commenting on a client without the client's permission. I can understand the reason for the rule, but if you can't comment on the client, you also shouldn't be able to comment on a law the client wants. It's a simple concept called DISCLOSURE. Thank you for disclosing your affiliations.

    My affiliation is with myself, I own Mad Hatter Enterprises, and am an independent recording engineer, political commentator, and general gadfly.

    A final point - you still to the best of my knowledge have not apologized for calling me a hatred-driven style of Maoist Guard in one of your posts on Sookman's website.

    In closing I would like to refer you to the following articles, none of which have been challenged for accuracy:



    Wayne aka The Mad Hatter

    PS: Howard, I would recommend that you consider moving your blog to the Wordpress platform. Blogger may be inexpensive, but it's extremely limited. If you need help, feel free to contact me, I have a fair bit of experience with setting up and optimizing WordPress.

    You can find my phone number on the about page of my main website,

  6. Russell,

    Geist seems to believe that implementing the WIPO Treaty is a good idea. He also doesn't seem overly concerned with the concept of evidence based legislation, which is a major issue to me.
    He also seems to believe that Technical Protection Measures are a reasonable idea.

    I disagree violently with him on those issues. I see no value to Canada in implementing the WIPO treaty, based on it's negative effects in other countries, such as the United States. I would be willing to change my view if third party peer reviewed study showed a value, but none has been done.

    I see no value in implementing any legislation which is not evidence based.

    And finally, as a programmer who has designed Technical Protection Measures in the past, I am totally opposed to their use, in any shape or form, because the law is prima facie unenforceable. Unenforceable laws teach disrespect for the rule of law. Disrespect for the rule of law leads to social breakdown.

    So no, I cannot agree with Geist.