Saturday, November 19, 2011

Protecting IT property rights not a short-term calling

I've been asked over the last decade how my activism will change once Canadian legislation that includes Paracopyright passes. Will my activism be finished, and will I admit "defeat" if a bill abrogates the government's responsibility to protect IT property rights?

At one level this could be a question about whether I will honour the law, which isn't really a fair question. Conservative MP Lee Richardson (Calgary Centre) suggests my honouring the law is optional, saying "If a digital lock is broken for personal use, it is not realistic that the creator would choose to file a law suit against the consumer, due to legal fees and time involved." I suspect the fact one of my early submissions to the government in 2001 involved documenting my circumvention of a TPM for an otherwise lawful purpose suggests that I will continue to do the same.

The more important answer is to state that our activism can not discontinue, and any passage of legislation is only one stage in an ongoing process. The United States provides examples where possible legislative wins can turn around in the courts, which suggests we will need to remain active to seek to turn any legislative losses into wins in the courts or later legislative wins.

A twitter/Google+ exchange with Jason J Kee, Director of Policy and Legal Affairs at the Entertainment Software Alliance of Canada, provides an example of this issue. Mr Kee's association includes game console manufacturers as members, with some game console manufacturers and mobile computer manufacturers being the least respective of IT property rights. Given some of his members want to legalise and legally protect activities which infringe upon the rights of technology owners, our biases in how to look at these policies will be quite different.

He challenged a suggestion I made in a Google+ posting that the USA's technological measures provisions have a tie to infringing purposes. I pointed to my reading of the DMCA which includes the following after defining access control technical measures in Title 17, § 1201, includes the following:

(c) Other Rights, Etc., Not Affected. — (1) Nothing in this section shall affect rights, remedies, limitations, or defenses to copyright infringement, including fair use, under this title.

(2) Nothing in this section shall enlarge or diminish vicarious or contributory liability for copyright infringement in connection with any technology, product, service, device, component, or part thereof.

(3) Nothing in this section shall require that the design of, or design and selection of parts and components for, a consumer electronics, telecommunications, or computing product provide for a response to any particular technological measure, so long as such part or component, or the product in which such part or component is integrated, does not otherwise fall within the prohibitions of subsection (a)(2) or (b)(1).

(4) Nothing in this section shall enlarge or diminish any rights of free speech or the press for activities using consumer electronics, telecommunications, or computing products.

This is a pretty plain language suggestion that the legislators intended limits and exceptions to copyright to not be trumped by technological measures.

Mr. Kee suggested that I'm "ignoring 10+ years of jurisprudence under the DMCA which does not support your assertion #C11", "Most recent MDY v Blizzard, where 9th Cir confirmed no nexus b/t circumvention & infringement #C11"

What he pointed to was "MDY INDUSTRIES v. BLIZZARD ENTERTAINMENT" appeal decision from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

In this case the court ruled that "for a licensee's violation of a contract to constitute copyright infringement, there must be a nexus between the condition and the licensor's exclusive rights of copyright." They then ignored the section of the DMCA I quoted above, and suggested that there should be no nexus between an access control and any rights or limitations in copyright. They went out of their way to ignore or reinterpret other court decisions and statements made by legislators to come to a specific decision.

We could discuss how courts are political entities, and how this Democrat dominated court is interpreting protectionist policies originating in the Clinton/Gore National Information Infrastructure Working Group on Intellectual Property Rights.

The take-away for Canadians should be that after Bill C-11 is passed, the law will continue to change. We should not resign ourselves into believing Canada will follow the USA in increasing the enabling of IT property rights infringement. It is just as likely that things will go the other way.

The MDY INDUSTRIES v. BLIZZARD ENTERTAINMENT case is in my mind a clear example of a TPM being abused to enforce contractual obligations, where one party to the contract is given excessive control over the other. In Canada there have been a number of law professors who have called attention to this issue, going as far as to suggest that this "poorly veiled attempt by the Government to strengthen the contractual rights available to copyright owners, in the guise of copyright reform" may be unconstitutional. Contract law is provincial jurisdiction, and any Paracopyright provisions that extend beyond activities that are the subject matter of copyright may be struck down by Canadian courts.

In my mind, any abuse of a technology that disables law abiding computer owners to control their computers for lawful purposes is an infringement of IT property rights. It is possible that provincial governments and courts will be called upon to clarify this aspect of tangible property rights, and weigh in favour of technology owners. They may not only strike down any legal protection of these abuses of technology in federal Copyright law, but may create legislation to legally prohibit it. This may allow owners to be able to go after infringers, providing the level of protection to technology owners that Bill C-11 alleges to provide for copyright owners.

Ensuring that these infringers won't get away with their dishonest activities when it comes to our governments, our courts, and our computers will require that we remain active in fighting to protect our rights. Setbacks at one time do not mean we should give up, and laws and interpretation of those laws change all the time.

No comments: