Leaky faucets and copyright in Canada

Here in North Carolina, a very severe drought finally motivated me to try to stop the drip in our kitchen faucet.  I tried and tried to tighten the faucet enough to stop the leak, but simply could not tighten enough.  Finally I faced the fact that a more comprehensive solution was required, and we replaced the old faucet with a new, leak-free fixture.

In Canada this month, folks trying to fix their copyright law have illustrated the same principle – it is often not enough to just tighten things up when what is needed is comprehensive repair.  For some weeks rumors have flown that the Canadian government, acting through its Industry Minister, intended to introduce a copyright reform bill that would mirror the Digital Millennium Copyright Act here in the US.  Both the US government and media interest groups in this country have been pressuring Canada to “normalize” its copyright law along the highly restrictive lines modeled by US Title 17.

As this article from the Electronic Frontier Foundation indicates, these plans rather backfired.  A surprisingly large grassroots reaction to the proposal developed quite quickly, led by Professor Michael Geist of the University of Ottawa.  Over 20,000 people joined a “Fair Copyright” Facebook site – a powerful testimony to the new awareness and concern over copyright regulation that is beginning to filter down to consumers.  The result is that the Government decided to delay introduction of their bill, which the opposition had dubbed the “Canadian DMCA.”

We can but hope that this attention and advocacy will not abate in the new year, and that Canada will use this momentum to actually fix its law, striking an appropriate balance between the rights of creative artists and the needs of consumers, as well as educators and new creators.  Simply tightening current rules will not work, as both my leaky faucet experience and the “finger in the dike” approach adopted by the RIAA indicate.

In the course of the campaign against the proposed reform law in Canada, Professor Geist and his colleagues created this YouTube video, which offers over two dozen suggestions about what ordinary consumers can do to influence the debates about copyright.  These simply actions, like making sure that digital media retailers will accept returns if consumers discover DRM systems that they do not want to accept, could profoundly influence both legal policy and commercial practice.  But if I could choose one that I wish would become a New Year’s resolution for many academics, it would be number 23 – “Read license terms.”