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.
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.]
Screencap cc-by 1111aether
Against DRM cc-by Nina Paley