Canada’s House of Commons resumes next week with continued hearings on the new copyright bill, C-32.
Some elements of it make me smile, others make me frown. I won’t go into the stupidity of protecting digital locks as some add-on to existing copyright protection. I’ll just keep that in this one paragraph with a hasty analogy: if somebody is trespassing, should the owner of the property claim extra damage because the trespasser also went around an electric fence? Ergo, should everyone put up an electric fence to be fully compensated in the event of a break-in?
(Not that ignoring copyright is anything like breaking into somebody else’s property, of course)
With that out of the way, there is one part of the bill that bothers me more than the others, and that one surrounds our libraries:
A library, archive or museum, or a person acting under the authority of one, may, under subsection (5), provide a copy in digital form to a person who has requested it through another library, archive or museum if the pro- viding library, archive or museum or person takes measures to prevent the person who has requested it from (a) making any reproduction of the digital copy, including any paper copies, other than printing one copy of it; (b) communicating the digital copy to any other person; and (c) using the digital copy for more than five business days from the day on which the per- son first uses it.
This is digital content. The only reasonable way to create self-destructing digital content is an honour system. Perhaps a note that says “please tell us when you’re done.” Somehow, I doubt that will go very far so the other way is DRM. The really nasty kind of DRM. We can expect standards and accessibility to be immediate casualties, or it just won’t work. By nature, it needs to be as inconvenient as possible to prevent any kind of unforeseen use of the raw content.
That is a problem because these are our public libraries. These are institutions that need to be free and accessible to everyone.
Modern computer technology has an amazing capacity to bridge physical barriers. Given sufficient equipment, unrestricted text content can be accessed by just about anyone on their own terms. It can be translated, freely, with language software like Apertium. It can be read aloud with Festival. It can be thrown at all sorts of displays, searched and manipulated at will.
If Canadian copyright law mandates proprietary software that suppresses digital content, anchoring it to the limitations of printed content, it will remain secondary; a feeble subset of what printed stuff can do.
But digital content is different. If our culture can embrace that, amazing things will happen.