Open Letter to Ministers re: Bill C-61

by Hugh

Jim Prentice, Minister of Industry
Josée Verner, Minister of Canadian Heritage
House of Commons
Parliament Buildings
Ottawa, Ontario
Canada K1A 0A6

Dear Ministers Prentice and Verner,

Thank you for your email of June 12, 2008 informing me of the introduction of Bill C-61, An Act to Amend the Copyright Act.

I am the founder of LibriVox, an all-volunteer, web-based project to make audio recordings of public domain texts and give them away for free. Since our inception in 2005, we’ve run on a yearly budget of $0; yet we’ve become one of the most prolific makers of audio books in the world, with a production rate recently topping 100 books per month. We’ve got a catalog of some 1,500 audio books, including authors such as Dickens, Cervantes, Austen, Dante, Darwin, Sun Tzu, Hobbes, Einstein, and Plato. We also have a number of Canadian classics from Leacock, Lucy Maude Montgomery, and others. We have thousands of volunteers around the world, who make audio versions of texts and give them away because they believe access to knowledge and great literature is one of the most precious gifts we can give to each other. We’ve gained some fame over the years, with articles in the NY Times, radio spots on the BBC, as well as many more mainstream and web media mentions and profiles. The Vice President of Creative Commons recently called us “perhaps the most interesting collaborative culture project this side of Wikipedia.”

LibriVox is the sort of project that is on the outer edge of copyright case law, because what we do was not possible even a few years ago. At our core, we are about reading old books, but we use digital recording software, distributed production models, mass online collaboration, bit torrents, blogging and podcasting, online forums and wikis, bandwidth, mp3s and zip files, all to make recordings of old texts and give them away online for free.

I have some personal objections to Bill C-61 as it has been tabled, objections you’ve heard no doubt from thousands of concerned and angry Canadian citizens. But I wanted to outline two concrete examples of how Bill C-61 would criminalize legitimate activities of Canadian LibriVox volunteers.

EXAMPLE 1: A publisher puts a digital lock on an e-book of a text that is out of copyright, but difficult find in print.

A LibriVox volunteer has purchased the e-book and wishes to copy the public domain text and share it with fellow LibriVox volunteers so that they may make an audio version. Under Bill C-61 it is unlawful for the (Canadian) volunteer to circumvent the digital lock on the e-book, even though the text itself is in the public domain.

This scenario is not far-fetched, it is already happening: in one instance, an e-book version of the American Constitution (certainly in the public domain) was distributed with digital locks and (spurious) copyright terms restricting uses of the text. Of course those copyright terms did not legally apply to the text, but with C-61, it would not matter, because it would be illegal for Canadians to circumvent the digital locks to use the text in ways that they are legally entitled to use it.

Bill C-61’s anti-circumvention provisions mean that publishers get to decide, unilaterally, what is and is not in the public domain. In fact, Bill C-61 would encourage publishers to put digital locks on public domain works (as they already put false copyright claims on print versions), and effectively destroy the principle of limited copyright term, one of the basic tenets of copyright law.

EXAMPLE 2: LibriVox releases all its recordings into the public domain, which means that anyone may use them for any purpose, including commercial uses. A business may — legitimately and legally — decide to bundle and sell LibriVox recordings on CDs, with digital locks.

However, even though LirbiVox, the original publishers, put the recordings in the public domain so they are free to be copied, sold, or given away, the new publisher is able to restrict use on the republished recordings, by putting digital locks on them.

Under Bill C-61, even I, the founder of LibriVox, will be breaking the law by circumventing the digital locks put on LirbiVox recordings, sold by another publisher.

Bill C-61 will allow publishers to take works with liberal copyright terms, and restrict further uses of those works by adding digital locks. It will be illegal for Canadians to break those digital locks, even for uses allowed under the original license of the works.

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These are two small examples from the LibriVox project, but they are indicative of Bill C-61’s problematic approach of criminalizing legitimate activities by making circumvention illegal.

Making digital locks sacrosanct and better protected than the rights of Canadian citizens makes no sense. As Bob Young has said, Bill C-61’s anti-circumvention provisions are “similar to making the use and ownership of screw-drivers and pliers illegal because they can be used to commit crimes such as burglary.”

The future of knowledge is digital. Bill C-61 is not just about mp3s of the latest rock n’ roll songs, or DVDs of television shows. Bill C-61 is about how Canadians can access, share, consume and use knowledge of all kinds.

If we are to have new copyright legislation in Canada, let’s be sure that we understand what we are doing, and why we are doing it. Let’s be sure that the new copyright legislation at least makes an attempt to understand the changes happening around us.

Librarians, educators, entrepreneurs, software developers, musicians, documentary film makers, and others, as well as thousands of Canadian citizens have voiced their opposition to Bill C-61. You can add to this list public domain audio book makers.

Locksmiths do not get to decide what property rights citizens have under Canadian law. Digital lock makers should not get to define our right to knowledge either.

Bill C-61 must be changed.

Sincerely,

Hugh McGuire
Founder, LibriVox.org

cc.
Hon. Thomas Mulcair, MP, Outremont
Hon. Stephane Dion, Leader of the Opposition
Hon. Charles Angus, MP Timmins-James Bay
Hon. Jack Layton, Leader, New Democratic Party
Hon. Gilles Duceppe, Leader, Bloc Quebecois
Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada