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Open Letter to Ministers re: Bill C-61

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.


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.


Hugh McGuire

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


  1. matt matt 2008-06-23


  2. Patrick Patrick 2008-06-23


    I’m going to try and translate some of those letters and examples posted around, Duceppe for one will probably be more receptive to french letters.

  3. Ken Wiesedeppe Ken Wiesedeppe 2008-06-23

    Hugh, Thank you.
    From someone who quickly goes from indignance to rage and incoherence when this topic comes up, I thank you for voicing this in a calm clear manner.

    The idea that our legislators are basically handing over control to publishers of whatever content they can “grab” by locking it was inconceivable to me before. It is now clear to me that our government no longer works for it’s citizens, who pay the taxes to keep them in office, but for the interests of the highest bidder. This hobbling piece of legislation will instantly turn many Canadians into “law-breakers” simply by virtue of continuing to do what they have been doing legally (until now) with digital media.


  4. Eo Nomine Eo Nomine 2008-06-23

    I’m not so sure that Bill C-61 as drafted would necessarily prohibit you from circumventing in either of your examples. The bill defines “technological measures” as “any effective technology, device or component that, in the ordinary course of its operation, (a) controls access to a work … and whose use is authorized by the copyright owner”. Thus, to be a technological measure protected under the bill, it must be authorized by the owner of the copyright. In the case of public domain works, there is no owner of the copyright, and thus any form of DRM applied to a public domain work would not be a “technological measure” as defined by the Bill. The act only prohibits circumvention of “technological measures” as defined by the Bill, and consequently, as TPMs applied to public domain aren’t “technological measure” as defined by the Bill, one should be able to circumvent any TPM applied to a public domain work with impunity. Incidentally, this also means that any DRM put onto Libravox’s audiobooks without Libravox’s express authorization would also not be a “technological measure” under the Bill, and thus the prohibition against circumvention would not apply.

    Moreover, I’d also point out that under section 41.1(2) of the Bill, only the owner of the copyright in the work is entitled to seek a remedy against someone for circumventing, so even in the unlikely event that a TPM applied to a public domain work was deemed to be a “technological measure”, as the work has no owner, no one would be capable of bringing an action for its circumvention.

  5. Spartacus Spartacus 2008-06-23

    Eo Nomine wrote: :Moreover, I’d also point out that under section 41.1(2) of the Bill, only the owner of the copyright in the work is entitled to seek a remedy against someone for circumventing, so even in the unlikely event that a TPM applied to a public domain work was deemed to be a “technological measure”, as the work has no owner, no one would be capable of bringing an action for its circumvention.”

    The problem is that while there may be no ‘owner’, there is a publisher who has denied consumers their rights by placing a lock on the public domain work. It is unlikely a judge is going to order a publisher to recall all copies which have illegal digital locks on them and to redistribute new copies of the work without the lock.

    So until the ‘test’ case goes to trial and even years afterward, all those who acquired the version illegally ‘locked’ by the publisher will be denied their right of fair use. Who will compensate them for that loss?

  6. Ken Wiesedeppe Ken Wiesedeppe 2008-06-23

    Oh, how I hope this doesn’t an intellectual property “landgrab” where people run out and copy works to put locks on them so they can claim ownership!

    Shouldn’t the bill expressly prohibit anyone but the “owner” from claiming ownership and placing limits on content they don’t own? That would be more to point, I think.

  7. kara kara 2008-06-23

    Good job, Hugh. *crosses fingers*

  8. mHannon mHannon 2008-06-23

    Problems I see are that more than one copyright might be contained in a file, 99% of which are public domain but the last 1% probably trumps the rights of the others.

    Also, the bill gives all rights to the person/company who adds the DRM. It is up to you to prove the contents are public domain, but how can you do that without breaking DRM? So, its a gamble and if you are wrong you have violated the law.

    There isn’t any restriction or penalty for applying DRM to someone else’s work, and there should be. There isn’t a penalty for falsely claiming copyrights over items contained in a DRM file, and there aren’t rules governing whether the content has to be 100% public domain. It’s simply poor law.

    It also casts doubt onto the distribution method of using P2P. Given the risks, people will simply avoid P2P distribution, even over completely legitimate files. You don’t know ahead of time which contents are “illegal”, or which are acceptable. Many bands re-record songs by others and they pay a royalty to do so. But, did they? If they failed to pay and you still download the file, you broke copyright because of back-office negotiations in which you had no part.

    Copyright permissions can change over time. Some works were put into the public domain by the original creator, only to have their descendants decide to impose harsh copyrights. Maybe that is ok, maybe not, and maybe it changes based by each countries legislation. So, suddenly we need to be international layers to understand which items are legal, and the onus is on us to be right, and with harsh penalties if we are wrong.

    The SAFEST option is to avoid everything, since you never really know the copyright status for any particular IP. There are many different settings for copyright dispersal, but this law focuses on one type exclusively. It’s law built for the organizations like the RIAA and MPAA, and everyone else has to “let the market sort it out”. But, there is new risk in being part of that market, it’s not a free market (as in open).

    It is a market that is demanded to cater to specific market requirements, of the strongest members of that market instead of the weakest.

    The costs of litigating any part of it mean it isn’t likely to be contested.

  9. Bob Bob 2008-07-05

    Why does librivox not use the “GNU Free Documentation License” instead of putting stuff into the public domain.

    Public domain materials can be used by a publisher and then electronically “locked up” and then subject to the DMCA or C-61 if it becomes law.

    Use of the GNU Free Documentation License requires that you have to pass the freedoms you received onto the next recipient and so on. Under the GNU FDL just like the GNU GPL used in software, nobody can ever take “free materials” and turn them into “non-free” materials.

  10. Hugh Hugh 2008-07-07

    the main reason is that we don’t want to have any restrictions at all. while GNU Free Documentation, and some of the Creative Commons licenses are great, they are restrictive because they say what you can & can’t do with our files. for instance if you use our files to make something new and interesting, you would be bound by GNUFD to make that free as well, which isn’t necessarily the best thing for you: you might want to sell it, you might want to lock it, or whatever.

    also, we don’t have any interest in enforcing any particular usage or licensing scheme.

    public domain has the beauty of being completely free of all strings, which is good. for more, see:

  11. Karl Karl 2008-08-18

    @Eo Nomine: You wrote “I’m not so sure that Bill C-61 as drafted would necessarily prohibit you from circumventing in either of your examples.”

    You’re wrong.

    Bill C-61 expressly forbids people from importing or manufacturing tools that *CAN* circumvent a “technological measure”. What use is it if you’re allowed to do something, but forbidden tools that can actually do it?

    This is the most insidious thing about C-61, and the one that rankles me the most – whenever someone points out the problem with a concrete example, fools who haven’t thought through the implications spring to it’s defense saying “oh, it doesn’t stop you from doing that.” No, but it *does* stop you from owning tools to do it.

  12. Hugh Hugh 2008-08-22

    @Eo Nomine: i’ll bet you a million dollars there are many copyright lawyers who would disagree with you, and many threatening letters, lengthy lawsuits and court rulings to get through before it’s clarified. That’s the problem with crappy laws made by people who don’t understand the sector they are regulating. It makes a mess. And costs everyone dearly.

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