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Government May Be Altering Copyright Submissions Without Consent

Thursday August 27, 2009

The copyright consultation has one of its biggest days today with a major town hall in Toronto, a roundtable hours before, and increased media coverage.  The consultation has attracted growing attention in recent weeks as the chart on submissions below demonstrates.  There are now over 3,000 submissions with the overwhelming majority of them speaking out against Bill C-61, anti-circumvention rules, and for stronger fair dealing (earlier charts here, here, and here).

Unfortunately, the chart is not entirely accurate in part because the government has effectively been altering some of the submissions.  This issue has arisen because of the large number of Canadians that have chosen to use the CCER submission form service.  The service allows anyone to submit their comments by either using a form letter or modifying the content as they see fit.  The government has decided to treat virtually all submissions from the CCER IP address as the form letter and simply added the relevant name to a single copy of the letter (the chart below reflects the fact that each letter is, in fact, an individual submission. Note that this is not limited to CCER, the government is doing the same thing for a form letter from the Canadian Private Copying Collective). I am reliably told that 10 to 20 percent of people who use the CCER site modify their submissions.  The government's approach has wiped out those modifications entirely by adding names to a letter that they did not sign. 

I raised this concern with Industry Canada yesterday.  They responded:

Industry Canada does not alter submissions. They are posted as received. We recognize participants using the form letter may alter the contents of the letter to best express their personal positions and opinions.  Every effort is made to identify variance in the contents of these form submissions. When we receive a form submission which also reflects a personal position, it is posted on the web site as a formal submission, in its original format.

While that may be intent, I have been provided multiple examples of original or modified letters that have not been posted to the site but rather have simply had the authors' names added.  For example [update: for a second example, see the letter posted at the end of this post from Cody Faulker of Barrie, Ontario), Justin Ruf of Yorkton, Saskatchewan, is listed as having signed the CCER letter and does not have an individual submission.  Yet this was his submission (posted with permission):

Dear Ministers,
I am a citizen who cares about Canada\'s cultural policy, and I am writing in regard to legislative proposals for \"copyright reform.\"

During the last Parliament, Bill C-61 provided some very sensible approaches to this complicated topic, but it also left room for improvement. As you consider the issue of copyright reform, I hope that you will work to ensure that any new legislation is not a regression from the sensible policies set out in Bill C-61.

In particular, I do not believe that \"digital rights management\" (DRM) technologies should stop the public from making lawful uses of their legitimately acquired media. Publishers using DRM push aside the delicate balance between copyright and the rights of the public - a balance set according to an assessment of the public interest by legislators - and replace it with one-sided rules that reflect publishers\' private interests. Even artists disagree with publishers\' anti-consumer use of DRM, as evidenced by the recently formed Canadian Music Creators Coalition. Therefore, as in Bill C-61, new copyright reform legislation should not make it illegal to circumvent DRM for lawful purposes.

Canada is going the way of American style DRM and this is a path we should not go down as evidenced that that course they have chosen has been nothing but problems. When I buy a product, ie a DVD/CD, why should I not be able to put that on my computer so I have have a back up copy or to stream it to my TV/sound system? Are we going to start to be like the Americans and start fining Grandparents for downloading a song off the internet, or maybe we could throw teenagers in jail? That would show them! This may sound crazy but it is happening in the USA because of a DRM system that favours Big Business.

This is an issue that a person must know more about in order to understand and I implore you to seek out the information, listen to a podcast on the issue, ask computer users, ask a consumer, ask yourself if you think you should be able to what they want with the things that you own.

These concerns are shared by a substantial and growing number of informed Canadian citizens. I hope that you will take them into account when considering any changes to Canadian copyright law. Thanks very much for your time.

Sincerely,
Justin Ruf

The submission is not even close to the same as the CCER letter, yet the government has listed Ruf as a signatory. In my view, it is the wrong approach for all stakeholders. Every Canadian who takes the time to speak out - whether a single paragraph, a long essay, or a form letter - deserves to have their voice count as a submission.  Obviously any modified letter should be posted in its original form and I would argue that the same is true for a submission based on a form letter.

Regardless of the approach you take, there are just over two weeks to join the thousands of Canadians who have spoken out.  What are you waiting for - speak out on copyright today!

Position Number of Supporters
Submissions against another Bill C-61 2417
Submissions in favour of shorter copyright term 85
Submissions against anti-circumvention or in favour of limiting DRM/Digital locks 2517
Submissions in favour of stronger personal use/copying and backup protections 2475
Submissions in favour of an “open copyright” system 10
Submissions advocating an end to the Crown Copyright 12
Submissions opposed to adopting an American-styled DMCA 44
Submissions in favour of stronger fair use/fair dealing protections 2061
Submissions opposed to implementing WIPO 8
Submissions in favour of eliminating all copyright 3
Submissions against a three-strikes rule 25
Submissions that favour a “notice and notice” approach 2401
Submissions in favour of instituting a levy for file-sharing/monetizing P2P 19
Submissions in favour of greater exemptions for education/research 25
Submissions in favour of establish a good-faith defence that the user believed their use of a work was fair and non-infringing 2398
Submissions in favour of laws that are technologically neutral 2003
Submissions that argue individuals should be protected from liability as long as their use was private and non-commercial 1965
Submissions in favour of a parody exemption 5
Submissions in favour of ISP neutrality 5
Submissions satisfied with current laws 3
Submissions calling for a strong public domain 6
Submissions in favour of stronger penalties for copyright infringement 5
Submissions in favour of turning copyright into a crime 2
Submissions arguing for protection for photographs 3
Submissions against works being available in digital or other forms for free 80
Submissions arguing for more protection for writers and other artists 29
Submissions opposed to creating new exceptions 2
Submissions opposed to an expansion of fair dealing 1
Submissions in favour of notice and takedown 2
Submissions in favour of implementing WIPO 4
Submissions promoting a collective licensing scheme 5
Submissions in favour of anti-circumvention/protecting digital locks 1
Submissions in favour of fining those who violate copyright laws 5
Submissions in favour of halting illegal file sharing 2
Submissions endorsing Bill C-61 1
Submissions proposing the expansion of the private copying levy 8
Submissions in favour of increasing school fees and tariffs for books and photocopies 1
Total Submissions 3003

Update: Below is a second example of a customized letter that has not been posted on the consultation site but the author is listed as a signatory to the form letter.  It comes from Cody Faulkner of Barrie, Ontario.

Dear Ministers,

I thank you in advance for reading this letter, it is very important to me that you hear my concerns.
I am worried that this Government may wrongly adopt the American approach to digital copyright law as evidenced by prior draft bills including Bill C-61.

As a consumer of digital media,full time student, and proud Canadian it is my strong belief that myself as well as the rest of the Canadian  population should be entitled to the information and knowledge that is being threatened in the prior mentioned bill as well as numerous other legislation. The follow through of this bill would most certainly lead to further constriction of personal freedom. There is a world of information at our fingertips, and it would be wrongful of this nation to prohibit its access. It appears to me that although the information age is pushing forward at an astounding rate, legislation seems to be moving in the complete opposite direction. Instead of exercising the freedom of this great nation, we have decided to criminalize its citizens.

In no way, shape or form am I personally against copyright law itself, in fact the creators themselves rely on its security to guarantee recognition for their work. The message that I am trying to convey is one of independence. Canada has the ability to set an example for other nations with innovative lawmaking principles, and yet we seem to lose more and more of our individuality with many of the law reforms. The notion of fair use should be front and foremost for future law reforms. Information of all types should be free to use for any non-commercial and non profit reason. Amendments to the Copyright Act need to ensure that statutory damages are limited and users must be protected from statutory damages if the user has good-faith to believe their actions and use of the work in question was fair and non-infringing, or if the user is engaged in purely private and non-commercial activity.

The Copyright Act should be amended to bring the backup copy provision into the 21st century by expanding the right to make an archival backup copy to all digital consumer products regardless of format or media. Technology has its flaws, and loss of information can be avoided.
So I challenge you, and the rest of Canadian politicians to converge and create a new system of copyright in Canada, one that promotes freedom of information, and not its restriction.

Sincerely,
Cody Faulkner