Jamie Williams

Trying to figure out the issues surrounding Bill C-32, the Copyright Modernization Act, is like trying to name every single sample used in a Girl Talk album. You’re going to need some time to sift through all that information.

Bill C-32 was tabled in June 2010 and has been under heavy scrutiny ever since. Critics have said it doesn’t do enough to protect the rights of creators and infringes on a citizen’s basic right to back up one’s own property.

“This bill strikes a balance in protecting the rights of the people creating the media,” said Alfred Hermida, digital media scholar and journalism professor at UBC. “[But] the issue then becomes the digital locks question that overrides everything else.”

So, what are the most contentious issues around the bill and how would it affect musicians in the new digital age?

1. Digital Locks Provision: The most-contested clause.

“To me, this is the one obvious place where not only is there not an attempt to compromise, but it completely skews the balance in favour of a world in which things can be locked down,” wrote copyright law specialist Michael Geist on his website.

The clause would criminalize breaking digital locks on products such as iPods and television broadcasts. It’d be illegal even for personal purposes like backing up data. Large companies such as Electronic Arts and music labels support this clause, while rights advocates and professionals argue it’s a blatant breach of consumer rights.

How does this affect you?
Fans who buy music on iTunes, or through a label that chooses to embrace even the flimsiest of digital locks, would be breaking the law if they chose to backup or make copies of the purchased music.

2. Notice-and-Notice Clause: It works and is considered fair.

This clause forces ISPs to notify website subscribers who host illegal content that they are committing copyright infringement. But, as with the current law, the ISP is not required to provide the government with any of its subscribers’ personal information. And therefore the government cannot fine the subscriber. Unsurprisingly, the music industry has argued for a stricter approach that mirrors the one in the U.S.

How does this affect you?
If you share music on your site anonymously, you would theoretically avoid getting fined by the government. But you would face a moral dilemma: take down content or leave it up against the owner’s wishes.

3. The YouTube Mash-up Provision: A step in the right direction.

This provision enables anyone to use small portions of published material to create derivative works if: 1) the work is not for profit; 2) the original source is cited; and 3) it does not take away potential business from the original creator.

“What this does is recognize that the way we create culture now has changed and that we do take snippets of media and culture created by other people and create something new,” said Hermida.

But the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Arts wrote on its website that this clause “tramples on [creators’] economic and moral rights.” It believes YouTube unfairly profits from these mash-ups without providing compensation and that the mash-ups distort the original work, therefore misrepresenting the artist.

How does this affect you?
Many musicians, such as most famously Girl Talk, make their living creating new derivative works from others’ material. This would legitimize a mash-up artist’s work and recognize it as a separate piece of art.

4. Format Shifting: Money grab by labels.

The bill is also under fire from musicians and musician lobby groups over its lack of a levy on storage media such as iPods or hard drives. The tax would compensate creators for what is called “format shifting”—something we all do when we transfer data and music from one platform to another, like from your iPod to your hard drive or vice versa. To their dismay, the bill would not tax new products, such as iPods or computers. However, the existing levy on CDs and DVDs remain.

How does this affect you?
From the perspective of a consumer of music, this is great because it would mean no new fees. From the perspective of a musician or record label however, this is bad news because it would mean no new source of revenue.

5. Statutory Damages Reform: Individuals better off but big business not happy.

This clause outlines how the law punishes commercial and non-commercial infringement. The court can fine companies of large-scale infringement up to $20,000 with no need for proof of damages, while non-commercial cases can only be fined up to $5,000.

“Once this bill is passed, you could go online and steal every movie that’s ever made, every book, and every song… admit liability, and write a $5,000 check,” wrote Canadian Recording Industry Association President Graham Henderson in an online statement.

But many people, including Geist, questions Henderson’s logic. “Is there anyone—other than the CRIA—that seriously believes this is likely to become a common outcome?” wrote Geist in a debate hosted on his website.

How does this affect you?
This means being caught sharing music with friends wouldn’t bankrupt the person as it does in the United States. But you could still be fined up to $5,000 for illegally downloading a single song. And so a risk is involved with downloading for private use, but it’s a risk that’s not so different from driving over the speed limit or smoking a joint in Vancouver.