With Bill C-11 (legislative summary) moving ever-closer to Royal Assent, Michael Geist has a must-read post about how regular Canadians’ helped to make the final Conservative bill a lot more user-friendly than they had planned way back in 2007. For those wanting a quick summary, Geist also provides a handy table charting how various provisions in the bill changed between the aborted 2007 bill and C-11.
The key take-away:
The first five issues [in the table] – fair dealing, time shifting, format shifting, backup copies, and user-generated content – are all user-focused reforms. None were the source of serious interest from the major lobby groups (even education groups were initially more interested in an Internet exception than fair dealing reform). None were included as part of the pre-Bill C-61 approach and just two appeared in limited form in Bill C-61 itself. Yet as the public became increasingly engaged on copyright, the government shifted its approach and added these provisions in an effort to address their concerns. The importance of these provisions should not underestimated. For example, the non-commercial user-generated content provision contains broad protections for individuals and websites that host the content.
As Geist notes, in a previous post I commented that what stood out for me about the evolution of the Conservatives’ copyright bills was how little had actually changed. And, certainly, on the key issues that I’ve focused on – namely, ISP liability and digital locks – this 2012 bill might as well have been passed in 2007. Very glass-half-empty, in other words, when it comes to the public’s effect on C-11.
I think it’s not so much that I disagree with Geist but that we’re weighing things differently. Digital locks were a (maybe even the) main focus of many user-rights advocates. Given this focus, I think it’s fair that some Canadian user-rights advocates are disappointed with the bill. As Geist notes in the post, “There is no sugar-coating the loss on digital locks” (Seriously, read it. It’s a good summary of the debate.)
But, as Geist notes, this doesn’t mean that the whole bill runs roughshod over user rights, even as it didn’t go as far as it could have. It’s definitely it’s not the total triumph that the U.S. SOPA protestors got in January when they managed to stop SOPA in its tracks, despite the very strong desire of many legislators – all of whom have real power – to move it forward. In that sense, as I argued previously, C-11 shows us the limits of social-media activism within the Canadian political system: It can’t move the immovable object (see Harper, Stephen on digital locks).
Lucky for us, Canadian politics isn’t all immovable objects. As Geist notes, C-11 is about more than digital locks and ISP liability. He’s right that the new user rights he lists represent a victory of the Fair Copyright for Canada movement. In a nutshell, no movement, no new rights. That’s pretty impressive and a real accomplishment for all those involved. It could even very well be that in real life these new user rights will turn out to be more important than the digital-lock provisions, in which case it’ll look even more impressive in hindsight.
Most importantly, this isn’t a one-off thing. There will be other copyright debates (hello, Access Copyright debacle!), and user rights will be front-and-centre in all of them. In politics, where nothing is ever settled forever, that could be the user-rights’ lobby’s most enduring contribution to Canadian copyright policy.