What’s the Deal over Bill C-32 and internet Copyright laws?

It all comes down to locks. That’s one of the latest analogies that’s been circulating around the Canadian blogosphere.

The locks refer to digital locks, used by distributors on copyrighted material (like DVDs and music) to keep material from being reproduced and, consequentially, keep profits in corporate hands. If you’ve ever tried to access an online video and been shut out because of location, that’s a digital lock in action.

Much of the debate around Bill C-32 (i.e., Canada’s latest attempt to update it’s copyright laws) has circulated around locks and whether or not they’re an effective deterrent and how severe trespassers should be punished. But the whole debate leaves my skepitcal senses tingling. In particular, I’m scepitcal about arguments that claim picking a digital lock is as easy as reaching through a gate and lifting a latch.

Certainly, locks are deterrents; a concerted hacker will find a way past. Nonetheless, it’s hard to believe (for someone who has trouble deciphering a microwave’s defrost function) that opening a digital lock could be that easy–that locks are merely minor inconveniences that anyone with the slightest wherewithal, and a bit of incentive, can circumvent.

What seems to be at issue isn’t Joe Average stumbling across a secret back-yard entrance into Toy Story 3 and running afoul of the law. What’s more likely is a clash between distributors and the public’s right to quote, parody, and incorporate material for artistic and educational purposes.

Bill C-32 seems slated to address the most issues around an individuals’ rights to copy material. The criminalization of format shifting (i.e., copying songs from a CD to your ipod), for example, will end if the bill is passed. The Minister of Industry, Tony Clement, felt confident enough about the coming change to boast about his own illegal stash of ipod songs.

Bill C-32 also supposedly contains exceptions for users remixing material for making video montages on sites like Youtube.

However, here’s where the controversy arises: those exceptions come with a caveat. As far as the impending bill is concerned, once a digital lock is introduced one’s rights to remix copyrighted material, for whatever purpose, are void.