Laurel L. Russwurm

a writer, the copyfight and internet freedom

Legal Today, Not Tomorrow? ~ Bill C-11

with 6 comments

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Bill C-11, Canada’s so-called “Copyright Modernization Act” has passed second reading in the House of Commons and is now before the parliamentary committee.

Since I am preparing my debut novel for eBook release, I’m trying not to pay attention, yet I find myself reading Russell McOrmond’s Bill C-11 Legisative Committee coverage.  Russell is both Live tweeting and blogging about each meeting day.   This legislation is simply too important to ignore, not just for me, as a self publishing writer, but for Canada, and the heritage and culture that is so much a part of who we are.

I can’t actually watch the proceedings myself, even though they are being broadcast online by CPAC.  Beginning with cable TV coverage, CPAC has provided Canadians with a ringside seat to Canadian parliamentary proceedure since 1992.   The problem is that this video is provided onsite in Windows Media Player format.

Problem: In order to watch video in the proprietary Windows Media Player, you need to have Windows, and I don’t.

It seems I can’t watch the livestream of the actual parliamentary committee meetings because I have chosen to use free software. I don’t use Windows anymore, nor do I use any of the various Apple computers. My operating system on *this* computer is Ubuntu, and the one on my desktop computer is Trisquel.

But of course, that’s the point.  Proprietary digital devices and content try to force the user to use the software or device specified by the manufacturer. Once you buy into any proprietary system, it is difficult to switch to another.  In this case it’s Microsoft, although it could as easily be Apple, or Sony, or any one of a plethora of rich and powerful companies that make proprietary software and hardware.

And why not? Microsoft built the Windows Media Player, and they want people to use it in their operating system.

In the past, circumventing proprietary formats might have resulted in a voided warranty. But it seems to me that Bill C-11 will make it illegal.

I expect CPAC paid rather a lot to be able to license the Windows media player.  But since Windows is still the dominant OS, it seems like a reasonable choice to reach the most people.  And CPAC wants all Canadians to have access to the video they create. That’s what they do.

And CPAC understands, because it attempts to circumvent the problem by  advising  us to copy the link below the video into our own video player if we are having problems.

I tried that, but it didn’t work on either the Ubuntu Movie Player or Banshee Media Player.   Even so, I wasn’t positive it was a proprietary issue the problem was until a friend tried to resolve it.

Apparently Flip4Mac WMV program converted the proprietary Windows video format to a proprietary Mac video format.

The other solution that CPAC offers is to use a program called VLC. Ironically I used that free software video player back when I still used Windows, but haven’t managed to get it to work in either of my gnu/linux machines.

The long and the short of it is that, because I am not able to run the proprietary Windows Media Player, I am effectively locked out of the digital government video CPAC routinely shares with Canadians.

An Illustration of Bill C-11

In a strange way this demonstrates why legal protection of TPMs — regardless of legality — is the central point of Bill C-11 that has Canadians concerned. As written, Bill C-11 would criminalize Canadians who circumvent TPMs (technical protection measures) even if we are legally entitled to access the content that is locked by these “digital locks”.

Although I’m neither a technical person or a lawyer, I think Bill C-11 would make software like the VLC player illegal in Canada because it circumvents proprietary TPMs.

And Bill C-11 will make both tools to circumvent and the act of circumvention of TPMs illegal.

It wouldn’t matter that CPAC wants to share their content with me, Microsoft would have to grant permission to convert proprietary formats into free formats, or else it would be illegal. Microsoft’s current policies indicate any such permission would be unlikely, but even if it did, the tools to circumvent the proprietary TPMs – like VLC – would be illegal, so I wouldn’t be able to do it anyway.

Lawyers like Michael Geist and Howard Knopf and tech folks like Russell McOrmond, Wayne Borean, Bob Jonkman and Cory Doctorow have said Bill C-11 would not be such a problem if TPM circumvention was only illegal if tied to copyright infringement.

the shape of things to come

But if they pass Bill C-11 as written, it will become illegal for Canadians to circumvent TPMs so we can watch our government in action. Or to back up our software, Or format shift so we can watch DVDs on MP3 players.

Depending on what TPMs manufacturers employ, it may become illegal to read public domain eBooks on our e-readers, or play DVDs that aren’t region encoded.  Which would mean that independent film makers wouldn’t be able to put their original movies on DVDs.  Independent musicians might be prevented from distributing their original work digitally.  The range of consequences are appalling.

How long until it becomes illegal to load free software on our computers?

If Bill C-11 passes, not long at all.


[Edited for readability (replacing a bit of awkward phrasing) but content remains the same.]

Image credits
Screencap cc-by 1111aether

Against DRM cc-by Nina Paley

6 Responses

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  1. I wonder if, should Bill C-11 pass into law, will downloading MP3 files or YouTube videos become illegal in Canada?

    Jonathan

    April 9, 2012 at 8:49 am

    • That’s a good question, and I suspect that the answer would be “yes.” You Tube video is intended to stream, so it would be necessary to circumvent the technical protection measures in order to download.

      MP3s would depend on… well, everything will depend on what the digital lock owners decide we can do with what we’ve purchased.

      Laurel L. Russwurm

      April 11, 2012 at 10:32 pm

  2. Not to take a complex issue and make it worse, but yet another problem with video is software patents. While there is a series of software I can use on my Linux computers to view the CPAC, ParlVU and Supreme Court streams, each of them involve using software which necessarily infringes software patents in order to be compatable with the Microsoft video streams.

    As to the first comment, governments shouldn’t be standing in the way of making computers easier to use. Whether the issue is TPMs or software patents, these interoperability problems are failures of government policy and not failures of computer owners. Blaming the citizen is never the solution.

    BTW: When I go to http://cpac.ca or http://parlvu.parl.gc.ca my desktop is using the “Totem Browser Plugin”. http://projects.gnome.org/totem/

    For http://www.scc-csc.gc.ca/case-dossier/cms-sgd/webcasts-webdiffusions-eng.aspx we have to go through other hoops https://plus.google.com/102320921480151371545/posts/hBRG2qwoXK3

    Russell McOrmond

    March 3, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    • Thanks Russell. One reason I value free software is that there are often multiple means available to solve problems. Often the hardest part for non-tech folk is where to find them, so the free software community is not only a valuable resource, but a much friendlier one than any corporate help page.

      Laurel L. Russwurm

      March 3, 2012 at 6:49 pm

  3. Learn how to use a computer. VLC is not hard and the video works PERFECTLY.

    Yeah. Blame Microsoft for your brain dead stupidity :)

    ender3ds

    March 2, 2012 at 10:04 pm

    • Yes VLC is a good program, nevertheless it did not work “out of the box” with either Ubuntu or Trisquel. Eventually I will probably get it to work; but that is not the issue.

      Like any corporation, Microsoft will do what it can to maximize profit, because that’s what corporations do. But that is not the issue either.

      The issue here, is whether Canadian copyright law should criminalize citizens for circumventing proprietary TPMs.

      Regardless, if you wish to pose any more questions or comments on any of my blogs, rudeness will no longer be tolerated. I won’t edit comments, but if they are abusive, they will be deleted, not published.

      Laurel L. Russwurm

      March 3, 2012 at 1:06 am


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